Printer Friendly

Feather Boy's promise: sacred geography and environmental ethics in D'Arcy McNickle's 'Wind from an Enemy Sky.'

D'Arcy McNickle's Wind from an Enemy Sky(1) presents a unique articulation of Native American sacred geography and concomitant environmental ethics via a mystical relationship with the "land" -its ecology-and the "Feather Boy" medicine bundle. This moral relationship with sacred lands has effectively been denied Native Americans in a series of court cases during the last decade; culminating in Lyng, Sec. of Ag., et al. v. Northwest Indian Protective association, et al. (86-1013 U.S. 108 S. Ct.), these cases have reduced the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to another hollow promise.(2) In deciding Northwest Indian, the court demonstrated a conceptual ignorance of Indian cultural and religious values associated with sacred lands. The outcome of the court's reasoning, according to dissenting Justice William Brennan, is "cruelly surreal," where "government action that will virtually destroy a religion is nevertheless deemed not to |burden' that religion." (id., at 1337) A fact in the court's failure to respect Indian religious freedom and honor the first amendment is the lack of scholarly study given to Native American religious traditions. Acknowledging this deficiency, I propose to elucidate the rich and complex thesis of sacred geography and environmental ethics which constitute McNickle's work.

On the surface, Wind appears tragic in emphasizing a clash between Indian and non-Indian values.(3) The novel begins with the traditional leader, Bull of the Little Elk Indians, and his grandson, Antoine, investigating a dam that has "killed the water" and inundated a sacred place. The circumstances of the dam are a reflection of governmental interference and coercion designed to alter and eliminate traditional Native culture; the tragic effects of this imperialistic posture are manifest in the thirty-year-old family quarrel between the protagonist, Bull, and his elder brother Henry Jim, who sought to follow the Wite Man's ways. As a victim of governmental boarding school indoctrination and repression, Henry Jim was not selected for the role of traditional chief, in his anger at Bull's ascendancy, he commits a grievous breach of traditional propriety in stealing the tribe's most potent totem-the Feather Boy medicine bundle-and turning it over to a local priest who sends it away to a museum. Having apparently worked many years in Indian Country and developed a superficial respect for Native traditions, the museum owner is a wealthy businessman named Adam Pell. Ironically, Pell is responsible for the dam and its violation of the tribe's sacred geography.

In confronting the traditional signs of his impending death, Henry Jim approaches Bull's camp with the desire for reconciliation, and he has rightly recognized that renewed tribal fraternity can only be had with return of the Feather Boy medicine bundle. In another touch ofirony, it is faith in the "New Deal" government agent, Rafferty, which compels Henry Jim to believe in the possibility for recovery of the bundle. Outraged with the discovery of the dam, Bull conveys violent feelings toward those who killed the water." Sensing this anger, Bull's nephew, Pock Face, lashes out and shoots the first person he sees, who happens to be Adam Pell's nephew. Investigating the murder, Pell arrives among the Little Elk people as a man predisposed to deal fairly with the Indians; rather than seek vengeance, he wishes to intellectually understand the basis of the conflict and resultant calamity. Acknowledging actions in desecrating the people's holy place and accepting their sacred totem, Pell realizes the uncanny role he has played in his nephew's death and, not incidentally, in disrupting Little Elk cultural traditions. Deeply regretful, Pell concludes that all can be set right by restoring the tribal medicine bundle.

As the story continues to unfold around the quest for the bundle and a restoration of grace, the reader, however, discovers the tragic secret that Feather Boy has rotted away and is no more. With the realization of this tragedy, Pell ill-advisely accepts the simplistic suggestion that value is amoral, unattached, and freely interchangeable across world views; he, therefore, decides to present the tribe with a substitute-a priceless gold statue of a naked virgin made by South American Indians - which he greatly prizes. As Pell explains the loss of the bundle, cataclysm ensues, resulting in his, Rafferty's, and Bull's deaths; McNickle poetically concludes: "That day, the cry of the plover was heard every- where... Ke-ree ke-ree, ke-ree. No meadowlarks sang, and the world fell apart."

Despitee the novel's articulation of cultural values - their inextricable connection with place - and the desire for reconciliation evidenced in Henry Jim's premonition of death, Bull's cultural tenacity, the government's good intentions, and Adam Pell's liberal sensitivity, the tragedy of this work is colossally hopeless. Indeed, does the novel hold any measure of hope whatsoever? And, is there any value present in the book beyond expression of the apparent conflict between Indian and non-Indian society? A prima facie reading can only conclude that the novel is but another example of terminal despair among Indians and a continuance of "the Red Road to Nowhere" perspective.(4) Conversely, a reader who is informed by traditional narrative expression and the cognitive ethnography disguised in the novel may reach a highly enlightened understanding of Native tradition and values essential for respecting religious liberty, cultural diversity, and the environment.

McNickle's Wind is a mythic narrative composed in the trickster motif.(5) Penetrating the popular misconception that myth is an expression of untruth and falsehood, one recognizes myth to be a mode of rationality different from that order which largely fuels the dominant Western logic.(6) Moreover, myth is fundamentally a religious methodology for reflecting and expressing themes of creation and sacred power; it is empowered by cyclic syllogisms that are outside of ordinary time and linear proof. In mythic logic, ambiguity presides with a sense of immediacy in recounting reality, and in resolving the ambiguities of reality, mythic narratives relate deep cultural and moral values, such as kinship, interdependence, and reciprocity. In trickster narratives, however, the motif is that of an anti-hero-a being who expresses the antithesis of normative cultural order and value. Modeled negatively, the trickster's rejection of normative order is a teaching mechanism for realizing fully developed moral agents who seek to avoid the trickster's inevitable failure.(7)

Opening the novel with a journey into mythic realms, McNickle writes "The Indian named Bull and his grandson took a walk into the mountains to look at a dam built in a cleft of rock, and what began as a walk became a journey into the world." (p. 1) These initial lines are closely reminiscent of traditional trickster openings, such as "Once Old Man was traveling about," in Blackfeet Na'pi stories, and "One day Coyote was roaming about," in Salish trickster narratives. Openings such as these clue the reader to expect mythic themes of cosmological order and cyclic time outside the mundane world of everyday affairs; accordingly, McNickle's opening is designed to set the tone for our reading and alert us to the cultural and moral values which follow.

In further establishing the novel's traditional identity, one must recognize the mythic time frames expressed early in the narrative. Affirming this claim of mythic time, McNickle writes:

The song was old, telling of a time when a boy listened eagerly for voices, wherever they might be, the voice of men, of the wind, of stars moving through the night.

A time ...

A time when the dawn lay in dampness on the prairie grass ....

A time when a grandfather ...

A time when the plover cried and the song of meadowlarks wove the world together (pp. 29-30).(8)

This mythic time refrain with the songs of creation reflected in the plover's cry and meadowlark's response occurs regularly throughout the novel.(9) With this metaphysic of creation, there are cycles of life and death which are a way of being in the world; Henry Jim hears the grass speaking and knows that it is time for him to seek reconcillation with his brother, Bull. "I gave you no time, because my time is going. That's how it is, Brother. The grass is speaking to me. The wind is pulling at my shadow. And I have little time left. That's why I came, without consent" (p. 19). This metaphysic of death is further articulated when Henry Jim hears the grass singing "very loud and very close," and as a result, he must sing for his life (pp. 55-56). This singing is an expression of the generative life force; in these traditions, the breath and word have power. Songs are thus sacred expressions of creation; and with the singing, that power called upon is actually present and active.(10)

Another aspect of trickster narratives which is present in the novel is their role in education; this theme is central in establishing the purpose of McNickle's work. For example, Antoine is counseled to learn through aesthetic perception: "Grandson, when a man goes anyplace, whether to hunt or visit relatives, he should think about the things he sees, or maybe the words somebody speaks to him" (p. 8). Near the conclusion McNickle makes it clear that he has been teaching through the traditional narrative motif, Antoine reflects upon the day he and his grandfather first discovered the dam: "his mind still burned with the flaming image of his grandfather's face when he fired his gun at the wall of rock holding back the water. What did you see today? What did you learn?" (p. 238). That the novel is cast in the image of a mythic narrative and trickster motif appears evident, given these themes of time, creation, and education; since the trickster motif is a negative role model, not to be emulated, this suggests that the hopeless tragedy of the conclusion is not the novel's primary message. Further analysis will reveal historical antecedents, sacred geography, and medicine bundle themes which constitute teachings designed to preserve tradition and actualize an environmental ethic.


While the Little Elk Indians appear cast as a fictional tribe, it is evident that McNickle based his story upon the Flathead Nation in Montana.(11) Although Cree Metis in ancestry, McNickle was born on the Flathead Reservation and held membership in the Confederated Salish- Kootenai Tribes.(12) Divining an historical antecedent to the novel, it is apparently grounded upon a combination of events in Salish (flathead) experience; specifically, their removal from the Bitterroot Valley and a series of dams built along the Mission Mountains. The characters Bull and Henry Jim reflect two historic Flathead figures-Charlot and Arlee. Traditionally, Charlot's band lived in the Bitterroot Valley south of present-day Missoula, Montana, and Arlee's band ranged north into the Missoula and Jocko Valleys. In 1872, General James Garfield conducted treaty negotiations with these two Flathead chiefs; while a treaty was allegedly consummated with the chiefs and the soon-to-be president, Charlot maintained that he never signed the document. Senator George Vest of Missouri investigated the matter and found that Charlot's claim was valid and that his alleged signature was a fraud. The result of this deceit was to embitter "Charlot and render him suspicious and distrustful of the government and its agents." Because Arlee, second chief of the tribe, signed the treaty and Charlot, first chief, did not, the latter rightly felt he had been robbed of his ancestral lands by falsehood and deception; this created great bitterness between the two Flathead chiefs, which endured until Arlee's death in 1890. Charlot, like Bull, refused to accept relocation and remained in the Bitterroot Valley without government recognition or assistance until his death, in contrast, Arlee - Henry Jim's apparent antecedent - accepted government promises of housing, tools, and seeds, acceding to relocation onto the Jocko Reservation.(13) McNickle's character Two Sleeps likewise reveals an apparent antecedent of his Cree ancestry, the oldest man in the camp, Two Sleeps appeared speaking a foreign language among a hunting party in the buffalo country east of the Continental Divide (pp. 11-12).(14)

Initiating protest among the Flathead people, a series of dams were constructed along the Mission Range during the 1920s and 1930s; McNickle's contractor Adam Pell appears to reflect these construction projects via the dam around which much of the novel's message centers (p. 50). The threat of inundation of sacred geography has continued as a periodic menace throughout the reservation era; several Flathead sacred grounds have been killed by dam-lakes and the people continue to protest dam construction."

In explaining the alienation of the tribe from its traditional culture - medicine bundle religion and sacred geography - McNickle develops three critical themes that fostered this cultural disruption; these are the loss of Native language, governmental interference (particularlyvia boarding schools), and Christian imperialism. These themes expressing the trickster motif.

McNickle's reflection upon language is subtly crafted; he writes:

He was named Bull-that was the English form of it. But the words men speak never pass from one language to another without some loss of flavor and ultimate meaning.

Bull, it was, the animal, but really something that was man and animal, and neither (p. 2).

Further articulating this language problem, McNickle reflects:

Bull would frown when white men smiled as they spoke his English name. It made him small, the way they smiled, but he never found out how to answer the smilers. They were just men with bad manners and he turned his back on them (p. 26).

In the end, as Henry Jim faces death, he rejects English for his Native tongue (pp. 124, 127); this rejection of the imperial language is a powerful assertion of the value of traditional culture.

In formed by a doctrine of savagism,(16) American governmental policy showed paternalism towards the Indians; this dogma reflected the racist belief that Indians must be made civil through conversion to Christianity and concomitant European-style land development. McNickle addresses this theme in one memorable paragraph revealing a "time of confusion" and again in his presentation of Rafferty, the New Deal government man, who replaced the "military-political-missionary tradition that prevailed in the past" (pp. 31, 33). Nevertheless, Rafferty, a victim of the times, lacks the cultural maturity to overcome the dogma of paternalism (pp. 119-120).

A particularly pernicious manifestation of American imperialism was the policy of forcible enrollment of children into government boarding schools; this repressive policy included isolating children from family bonds, forced instruction in English with severe punishment for speaking Native languages, and oppressive conversion to Christianity.(17)

In McNickle's Antoine, we are presented with the object of traditional values which the novel is intended to articulate. Having just returned from a boarding school, Antoine is letting his hair grow long again" (p. 1). The trauma of the boarding school continues to be on his mind as he reflects upon the governmental school disciplinarian who appears as the "man with one long arm" (pp. 106-107). Early on, this alienation impairs his relationship with his grandfather Bull, who asks "Am I talking to you or to a piece of paper?" (p. 1). Bull has reason to be wary of boarding school indoctrination, in part the cause of his conflict with Henry Jim; it is worth reviewing the remarks of his father, Enemy Horse, to the governmental interpreter:

I will send one young boy, just so this teacher won't think I am a hard man. But tell him he will have to get up early, long before the sun, and see to it that my boy gets up to run. Don't let him get lazy. He is to take him on the trail and show him where the deer cross to water, where the grouse nest, and where the beaver build their houses. My boy will have to live in this country when he is a man, and I don't want people to think he is a fool (pp. 132-133).

It is these values that Bull-McNickle's quasi-trickster protagonist-is attempting to teach Antoine, and consequently to the reader, "the language of respect" for both the Nature and the self in avoiding environmental destruction and personal anger or embitterment (pp. 130-131).

In weaving a complex series of events around the transfer of the Feather Boy medicine bundle to the Reverend Stephen Welles, and then to Ada Pell, who returns with the Little Virgin," McNickle presents an exquisite indictment of Christianity (pp. 18,14,211-212). Moreover, Welles is traditionally acknowledged by the unfavorable epithet "the dog-faced man" (p. 47). Despite a display of spiritual power in taking the bundle from its place, Welles maintains a narrow-minded attitude that "pagan" customs are to be destroyed (pp. 48-50, 172). This perspective comports with the savagism dogma that Christianity and civilization - particularly the development of wild nature-are essential requirements for social ascendency.(18) In a case of using the apparent to disguise the evident, McNickle has Rafferty respond to Pell:

The sacred bundle is in your museum; at least it was sent to you, according to Stephen Welles, who doesn't want to see it returned. I haven't mentioned this to the people here. I didn't want to make it appear that you were party to Welles's theology, in case you were not in agreement with it (p. 172).

In accepting the bundle and concomitantly developing the land, Pell aligns himself with the Christian dogma of converting "savages"; in addition, the "small contribution to the mission" implicates the theme of Christian imposition(19) upon the Native at the expense of traditional religion. This theme is paralleled by Pell's return with the obvious Christianicon - the "virgin of the Andes" - thinking it could replace the traditional values of the "pagan" totem (pp. 252-253, 212).

With Henry Jim's affirmation of the old ways, McNickle rejects these cultural impositions of language-loss, governmental interference, and Christianity. Henry Jim recants his life of following the white man's ways; he gives up his big house to die in his home-a tepee (pp. 118-122). In preparing for death, he expresses his desire to be buried in the old way with a horse to aid him on his spirit Journey (pp. 127-128);20 and he reverts to his native tongue as death becomes imminent (pp. 127- 128). From the beginning, Henry Jim's approach to reconcillation provides the essential orientation for wholesale repudiation of his white man's life style (p.18). With return of the bundle, the people espect to have their life again "the way it was" (p. 226). McNickle sets this stage early on when Henry Jim declares to Bull:

My talk is this: "Let's bring back our power. Let's bring Feather Boy back to this country, to protect it for our children" (p. 18).

In discovering that he had contributed to his nephew's death, Pell's liberal sensitivities are unmasked, and he brightens to think that he can return the totem and be forgiven for killing the water" (pp. 126, 173). Pell's decision to return to the Little Elk people with the virgin illustrates the moral weakness that McNickle seeks to expose in liberalism; Pell's scheme is thus nothing more than a capitalist solution without the merit required by the Little Elk "language of respect."


A theme of environmental ethics pervades the novel and this moral regard for Nature is manifest in themes of sacred geography conjoined in the spiritual power of a medicine bundle religion. Before examining the sacred geography thesis within the novel, it is necessary to distinguish Native and Western world views on Nature. J. Baird Callicott has provided a general foundation for this distinction; he argues that the Western world view characterizes nature as material, mechanical, devoid of spirit." Conversely, among Native world view, "nature throughout" is regarded as "an extended family or society of living, ensouled beings." In consequence, the former view "invites unrestrained exploitation of nonhuman nature, while the latter provides the foundations for ethical restraint in relation to nonhuman nature."(21)

Cognitively, the Western ethos is abstract and conceptual while the Native picture is corporeal and sensory, inviting aesthetic participation - a perspective explicitly denied by the early Greeks. Dichotomies such as the supernatural (sacred) and the natural (profane), as well as animate and inanimate, do not exist within these traditional Native world views; and as a consequence, all of nature is sacred. There are, however, places where the numen is more potently manifest; this point is acknowledged in mythic traditions of creation associated with place, as well as in the proclivity of particular places to deliver visions - nature theophanies - and concomitant spirit powers. The universe, in the Indian view, is a sacred continuum manifesting foci of power.(22) This perspective is distinguished from the Western tradition, which denies the sacredness of nature but may consecrate distinct space under ecclesiastical authority,thereby a affirming the rationally induced - anthropocentric - dichotomy of the sacred and the profane.

In Wind, these differences of world view are metaphorically manifest via the Natives' Feather Boy medicine bundle and Adam Pell's Christian icon. While Pell's statuette is an object of symbolically derived value in a tradition far removed from the Little Elk Indians, the Feather Boy medicine bundle is a consummate manifestation of the tribe's aesthetic participation in concert with their ecological surroundings It is from this perspective that McNickle characterizes the bundle as a kind of controlling force in their universe" (p. 189); the bundle contains the nature as corporeally manifest, sensually experienced, and ritually related during years of tradition. Accordingly, the bundle is in a very real sense the land - i.e., its ecology - for the Little Elk Indians. Conversely, Pell's golden icon is a transcendent symbol of both art and Christianity; it is only incidentally associated with the land of its origin, and it wholly lacks ecologically propriety.

McNickle's attention to sacred geography makes it possible to understand the moral regard of Nature manifest in the Little Elk bundle religion. Mythic accounts of creation and ritual observances accord geographical features and ecological attributes-minerals, plants, animals - a culturally specific sacredness.(7) McNickle reaffirms this mythic approach in the introduction of the holy place; his concomitant behavioral proscriptions realize the sacred geography thesis:

Beyond the aspen grove the mountains opened to form a wide basin. Sharp crags and granite cliffs hung upon it on three sides, and in the far wall a ribbon of white water spouted from a erpetual snowfield.

It had been a holy place, this mountain-locked meadow. "Be careful what you do there," the boy had been told by his relatives. "This is a place of power. Be careful what you think. Keep your thoughts good." . . . "Don't have angry thoughts here," he was told. (p. 5-6)

Positively clarifying this theme and the environmental ethos of the novel, McNickle poetically expresses his trickster-protagonist's antianthropocentricism:

"Strange things have happened," he said. "I climbed the mountain with my grandson, and we found what others already knew, how the white man has turned our water away. It is hard to believe that anyone would do this. How can a man know what a stream wants to do? How can he decide this by himself?.

"A man and woman fit to each otber after they live together a long time-that is the way a stream fits itself to the earth. They have no secrets from each other. A stream has its life. It starts from many small springs and from the snows, it brings them all together. It flows over rocks, washing them smooth and round. It feeds small bushes and large trees. It provides for the needs of fish, muskrat and beaver, the king-fisher, and the little bugs that skip on the surface. Were the animals and the trees asked to give their consent to this death?' (p. 24, emphasis added)

In reflecting on the "consent" of Nature and humanity's inability to know and decide the fate of wild things, McNickle has introduced the theme of ecological egalitarianism characteristic to the Native world view.(24)

Sacred geography is also realized through ritual activity and during ceremony. Bull confirms this point in recalling that the canyon was where the people used to gather for the summer dance- a ceremonial event of world renewal (p. 13).(25) Reflecting the traditional Indian view of Nature, Bull finds it inconceivable that anyone would kill a stream, but he doubts his ability to convince white men of this ecological imperialism. In Bull's reflections, McNickle provides critical insights into the role that cultural viability plays in confirming a sacred geography:

I took my grandson up the canyon today. We climbed all the way up there, where the people used to gather for the summer dance. We stopped doing that dance, and then we stopped going there unless somebody went to hunt or to gather huckleberries.

Then we heard the white men were going to stop our stream. They were going to take the water away from there and give it to the farmers out on the flats. Somebody told me that, and I said it was foolish talk. Who wouldkill a stream? Dry it up? I said that. I remember it.

But the word kept coming to us, every year, it seemed. And finally we were told they would really do it. A man was coming from east of the mountains, and he would do it. He would take a shovel and dig a hole in the ground.

It seemed so foolish. I just laughed. You wanted me to go and stop that man. You wanted me to make speeches. Iaid, "Very well, go and make your speeches. If you can stop a white man with a speech, make it a good one. You can come tell me about it afterward." (p. 13)

Two important points surface from these remarks: first, when traditional practice is halted, a people risk losing their cultural identity, particularly as it is accorded them from a sacred geography. Moreover, the place and the people-culture-lose their respective " power." This conclusion is evident in the Little Elk Indians' inability to halt the dam, a result linked here directly to cessation of the summer dance. In Bull's bitter reflection on speech making, McNickle challenges the reticence that typically pervades traditional Indian protest of the white man's actions. Since the novel is educational via its mythic design, this second point serves to encourage traditional Indian activism and heighten non-indian awareness of this aspect of traditional Indian culture.

Sacred geography is further acknowledged through the land's capacity to generate nature theophanies or spirit powers; traditionally, these are manifest during vision or guardian spirit quest rites, although they may also be realized during other ritual activity and in dreams.(26) Recognizing that the powers of place must be approached in a sacred way, McNickle has Bull reflect on the times he went to the mountains to fast, but received no visions because visions do not come to angry men (p. 27).(27) Reflecting these themes of sacred geography, the medicine man Two Sleeps goes to the mountain to fast and learn about the fate of Feather Boy. Such journeys are not without risk, as Two Sleeps suggests: "Ah, my kinsmen! My journey has been long since I left camp two days ago. A long journey. Almost to the end. But, you see, I came back!" (p. 195) During his quest, the storm appears as a Nature theophany to Two Sleeps; he, in turn, invokes the numena by singing a song of kinship and reciprocity: "My friend, the storm, I am here with you! My brother, the storm wind, stay here with me!" (p. 197) And as a spirit of place, the storm reveals, in dream, that which the old man seeks. This essential fusion of pilgrim with the sacred powers of place during retreat is aesthetically crafted in Wind:

To be born was not enough. To live in the world was not enough. How was it, then? He stood there, swaying slightly, trying to hold it in his mind. When he moved again, he was following his thought once more, but it was getting dim. One had to reach. That was what a man had to do. It pulled him along. He had to reach with his mind into all things, the things that grew from small beginnings and the things that stayed firmly placed and enduring. He had to know more and more, until he himself dissolved and became part of everything else - and then he would know certainly. Reaching with his mind was part of that, a kind of dissolving into the mist that was at once the small seed from which the pine tree would grow and the mountain that endured forever. And a man was there, in the middle, reaching to be come part of it. That was something of what it was like to be in the world.

. . . And there he dreamed (pp. 197-198).

Accordingly, it is the ecology of place - the collected beings of nature - which inform the traditionalist of sacred values and guide religious practice.(28)

Cognizance of the sacred geography recorded for Flathead - in the novel, Little Elk - tradition is helpful in realizing the effects of its desecration upon religious practice. Reporting the Salish Blue Jay dance, Harry Turney - High explains that should the quasquay - medicine man - escape, they would retreat to the Mission Mountains, where they would die of starvation and too much sumesh - medicine or spirit power.(29) Thus, the Missions, site of the holy place in the novel, are recognized as a sacred place of sumesh. While the Mission Mountains are protected as a Flathead tribal wilderness area today, the Jocko Valley and Evaro Canyon are presently developed and so void of sacred power despite mythic empowerment.(30

In further reflecting the novel's historical antecedent of Chief Charlot, his band's relationship with the Missoula and Bitterroot Valleys reveals additional areas of sacred geography. Guarded by a medicine tree overlooking Hell Gate Canyon and defined by four sacred mountains, the Missoula Valley was known among the Salish as Il-miseul-etsch-em --" Land of the Shining Waters." The most prominent of these four sacred mountains surrounding Missoula is Amotken Mountain. Named for the Salish Creator, this mountain today is known as Lolo Peak, five miles south of Missoula.(31) Lolo Pass, which explorers Lewis and Clark made famous, is likewise acknowledged in two sacred narratives involving the trickster-transformer Sinchlep-Coyote-in his attempts first to illuminate the world and, second, bring salmon to the Flatheads. From this later account Lolo Pass bears the name Lumsumclt, meaning "no salmon."(32) Farther south in the Bitterroot Valley is the Ram's Horn medicine tree and ceremonial dance ground which is a place of thanksgiving honoring Coyote's victory over the Mountain Sheep. St. Mary's Peak, near Stevensville, was traditionally climbed by the Tlekiulsch-medicine men-in search of sumesh.(33)

Before turning to the integral role sacred geography plays in the medicine bundle religion, it is important to acknowledge the character of place in Indian tradition. The first professor of Native American religious traditions in a U.S. niversity's religious studies department, Joseph Epes Brown asserts that it is only "where Indians are still able to live in an area of as-yet-unspoiled nature" that they continue to have access to the sacred.(34) Something of this concern is reflected in Bull's teachings to his grandson, Antoine: "Just the same, you will remember what happened today. After a while, you will understand it. The white man makes us forget our holy places. He makes us small." (p. 9) This concern is further assessed in Bull's meditation concerning the killing of the mountain stream:

Yes, I was afraid. How can a stream out of the mountains be killed? Will they open the earth and drop us in it? Will they take the sun out of the sky? It was bad for us when they came with guns. Now they will kill us in other ways.

Old Man, what can we do against these men who dry up a stream and make new rivers where none were meant to be?" (p. 14)

The suggestion that they will kill in other ways, is an apparent confirmation of Brown's point, yet if the essential focus of traditional value - "the Nature"-is to remain vital, it too must be accompanied by the metaphysic of nature found in the mythic narratives. Moreover, it has been recognized that Indian conversion to Christianity is a repudiation of tradition and thus an alienating experience(35) like that manifested by HenryJim in the novel. Hence Bull's rhetorical question of Two Sleeps appears to affirm the value of tradition in facing imperial oppression. The moral impetus of these themes of sacred geography will manifest itself as an environmental ethic in acknowledging the character of the medicine bundle religion.


Cognitively grounded in Western empiricism, anthropologists have largely overlooked the religious significance of medicine bundles among Native Americans. In 1912, Clark Wissler defined a medicine bundle as "any object or objects, kept in wrappings when not in use, guarded by the owner according to definite rules and associated with a ritual containing one or more songs."(36) After years of ethnological research with the Crow Indians, Robert Lowie continued this definition, declaring that a medicine bundle is "an objector set of objects kept in wrappings when not in use; associated with a ritual based on a reservation and usually with definite rules."(37) Acknowledging the role of mystical power in individual association with the bundle contents, Bernhard Richert has significantly added to empirically centered definitions."(38) Offering a composite definition of the medicine bundle complex, Jeffery Hanson defines t to be: "an object or set of objects which (1) is kept in wrappings when not in use; (2) serves as a repository for the transfer of supernatural power; (3) has its origins in individual visions or complex myths, either of which imposes rules of ritual use and care; (4) is acquired through vision or institutionalized means; and (5) may or may not be transferable."(39)

These empirically derived definitions of the medicine bundle complex reflect the functional dimensions observed by Western anthropologists; they largely fail to convey a Native understanding intrinsic to a medicine bundle religion. Attempting to provide an emic definition, William Wildschut suggests that materials contained within medicine bundles "are rich in symbolism. They are the objective expressions of the traditional religious beliefs and practices of a vigorous and deeply religious people."(40) Emphasizing the interaction between a people and nature, religioecology studies have advanced the inextricable relationship of surrounding ecological conditions within a culture thereby affirming its ecologically centered religion and morality.(41) The tendency expressed in these studies has all too often been to view nature and natural objects as symbolically expressive of transcendent powers;(42) despite the important acknowledgment of nature in such studies, the assertion of transcendent symbolism is another Western conceptual error.(43)

In turning to a more traditional explanation of medicine bundles, two characteristics are manifest: first, sacred origins grounded in myth and vision experience, and second, a functional relationship centered upon an ecology of place and expressing the Native metaphysic of nature. While among McNickle's Little Elk Indians, the Feather Boy medicine bundle represents an especially powerful totem, this ceremonial complex is not particularly well developed within the Salish tradition. Despite containing items of "symbolic power," Flathead bundles are small and individual.(44) Apparently, cognizant of this fact, McNickle's keeper of the community-centered Feather Boy bundle-Two Sleeps-is of different tribal origins than those of the Little Elk Indians; manifesting a highly developed medicine bundle complex, such as that found among the large Algonquian family, the evidence again suggests that Two Sleeps' nativity is Cree (Algonquian).

Traditional narratives explaining the origin of medicine bundles were generally known only to a handful of bundle owners.(45) Cree shaman Fine Day reported that the first sacred pipe bundles, containing the "Powers of the Universe, such as Birds, Animals, Air, Water and so forth," were given to Earth Man by the Manitou.(46) In McNickle's story of Feather Boy, it is the Thunderbird who gave the bundle "in the long ago" to the people via a young woman, with the promise:

"Keep this," he told her. "All the good things of life are inside. Never let it get away from your people. So long as you have this holy bundle, your people will be strong and brave and life will be good to them. My own body is in this forever." (pp. 204-208).

This narrative explanation is comportable with that offered by a contemporary keeper of a Blackfeet sacred pipe bundle George G. Kipp Ill, who declares in defense of sacred lands, "We were shown where Thunder lives. He lives in those mountains up there,"(47) which place and its ecology are acknowledged as the foci of the bundle's power.

Affirming the preceding conclusion that place and its ecology are the foci of the bundle's power, Wildschut reports that among the Crow the content of medicine bundles is comprised of "symbolic representations of the supernatural beings and forces seen in the owner's dream or vision." These visions were deliberately sought and most frequently obtained in retreat upon "the summit of a mountain or a high hill." Furthermore, the large community-centered medicine bundles were built upon the strength of successive visions.(48) In the Blackfeet tradition, the Beaver bundle originated in a coming together of all creatures of the earth, water, and sky who offered their power to the bundle. Containing over six hundred sacred songs, this bundle may be traced to the pedestrian "dog days" of the Blackfeet; these and other bundles are relied upon as a "communication of power from special animals and birds."(49)

Further affirming the medicine bundle interrelationship with Nature, it was explained to me during a Blackfeet Thunder Pipe Bundle opening ceremony that "this bundle contains the Nature, we are here to honor the Nature."(50) This statement confirms the earlier thesis advanced in this essay, which is that the bundle is the land. Recalling the tutelary spirits obtained during the vision experience and their role in the creation of the bundle, it is important to recognize that these "spirits" are "the Nature," and each species or elemental form is so acknowledged. Accordingly, the spirits are both spiritual and corporeal forms of being; hence, spirit power manifests natural phenomena.(51)

In revealing traditional values associated with nature, the deteriorated condition of the Little Elk Reservation through development activity, and the effective disappearance of the Feather Boy medicine bundle, McNickle illustrates these principles associated with the medicine bundle complex. In addition to the numerous references to sacred geography previously cited, Antoine's ride to the agency reveals:

It was a time of pleasure, to be riding in the early morning air, to feel the drumming earth come upward through the pony's legs and enter his own flesh. Yes, the earth power coming into him as he moved over it. And a thing of the air, like a bird. He breathed deeply of the bird-air, that was power too. He held his head high, a being in flight. And he sang, as his people sang, of the gray rising sun and the shadows that were only emerging from the night. (p. 106, emphasis added)

Further commending this nature ethos, Bull explains his preference for traditional moccasins: "If I walk in hard shoes, the ground won't reach me. Then I won't be Indian" (p. 167).

These values of earth power are juxtaposed against the development of the Little Elk Reservation in several instances within the novel:

The old people could remember when the Little Elk Valley, like the sky above it, had been free and open- a country of low rolling hills, wooded stream courses, meandering wagon roads, and game trails leading to water places. Then surveying parties came and drove wooden stakes in the ground. And after that, wire was stretched between posts and the open country was gone. Now the soft rolling hills and gentile swales were cut into squares, and the traveler could only go where roads or lanes allowed passage between fence lines. (p. 222)

This desecration of Little Elklands is further acknowledged in Antoine's ride to his dying kinsman's (Henry Jim's) home. While watching for "the strange house that was an Indian house but did not look like an Indian house," Antoine meditates upon the incongruity of the development of the lands:

He had observed at the government school how a white man builds a fence-four strands of tight wire stapled to posts, with wire spreaders at intervals between the posts for extra tightness-and that was how he knew when he reached the boundary of Henry Jim's land. The house was not yet in sight, as it lay behind a single rise of ground. But the fence, fields had been harvested and fat cattle gleaned the stubble. Antoine could not understand all that he saw, but he knew it was something strange, like the forms around the government's school in Oregon. (pp. 112-114)

The fate of Feather Boy is manifest in the reality of the land's development. Through Adam Pell's quest for lost grace, McNickle reveals the awful truth:

Adam tore his museum apart-and made the final discovery. The medicine bundle had effectively disappeared, although not absolutely. It had been tossed into a lumber room, still bearing its identification tag, along with broken furniture, battered steel cabinets, abandoned exhibits, including stuffed birds and animals too mangy, to be refurbished. But someone had failed to take it out of inventory and it showed up as a registered item. The unending battle museums wage against rats, moths, organic decay, and an assortment of molds, mites, and enterprising worms had caught up with the medicine bundle. Mice had eaten their way through the buckskin covering and had bred and reared countless generations, each generation chewing away at hide and the inner contents, whatever that might have been. The only remains consisted of a few pebbles and the shafts of some feathers. Other objects may have dropped out, but no one had bothered to gather them up in disposing of the bundle. What was left of the hide and binding thongs were tattered and profaned, devoid of holy mystery.

It was a monstrous discovery.

The notion that a dam in the mountains, with which he was now identified, had killed the water had troubled him.... The dam was an unnatural disruption of a functioning universe, a kind of crime against life. (pp. 209-210)

And the disappearance of Feather Boy evidences the uncanny fact of the bundle's identity as the Little Elk land-ecology in its state of neglect and "unnatural disruption." Moreover, in this tragic realization, McNickle has crafted a vivid portrait of the "mysterium tremendum" evident in the spiritual-ecological force that is the land ethic or moral code which a medicine bundle plays in the traditions of many Native Americans.

The bundle is an affirmation of a Native environmental ethic; as the bundle is ceremonially honored, so too are the dreams and visions of Nature constituted in the bundle and its ecology of origin. Associated with the contents of the bundle are spirit-songs which invoke the powers of the respective ecological beings. Consequently, in the singing of these songs, affirmation is given to interdependence, kinship, and reciprocity with "the Nature" and concomitant sacred geography which the bundle manifests.(52)

Henry Jim's theft of the sacred bundle is a theft of both land and tradition; this act is responsible for the bad times suffered by the people because it is an act of apostasy against the traditional culture and the Nature" (p. 230).(53) As Feather Boy is given over to the custody of the developer, Adam Pell, McNickle confronts the savagism dogma that denies Native environmental ethics and culture. He writes:

Indian lands had been taken because they would be put to a higher order of use, because they could contribute to the advancement of a higher order of society-and the law had legitimized such taking. The law was in society and society was in the law. Could he imagine what it would be like otherwise? Whose law, whose society, were irrelevant and immaterial questions. (p. 190)

This rhetorical question haunts the Northwest Indian decision as an invocation of the savagism doctrine in its ethnocentric denial of Indian religious freedom.

Reflecting the spiritual and moral loss of the Little Elk Indians, and the impoverishment of the dominant society, McNickle records Bull's thoughts: "These mountains, trees, streams, the earth and the grass, from which his people learned the language of respect-all of it would pass into the hands of strangers, who would dig into it, chop it down, burn it up.... They were a people without respect. . . " (pp. 130-131). It is this "language of respect" constituted by the medicine bundle tradition that realizes the moral force and educational impetus of this mythic novel.

In a concluding comment, permit me to further stress the cyclic process which revivifies the trickster-transformers in such mythic narratives. While these hero figures are generally reduced to tragedy during the narrative event, their life-force is analogically redeemed by the powers of nature; among the Salish, for example, Coyote often suffers but his friend Fox comes along and jumps four times over him to revive the trickster from death.(54) The apparent tragedy which concludes Wind with the death of the trickster-protagonist Bull is similarly transformed via the education of Antoine. Accordingly, just as Coyote transcends death in a new day's adventure, Bull's teachings and the Little Elk traditions transcend his death through Antoine's cultural empowerment; this is cultural wholeness transcending the limitations of society and time through mythic vision. The youth in this context has the revivifying role of the Fox and it is the tradition (Coyote) which lives on; long may it be so.


This paper was originally presented to the 24th Annual Meeting of the Western Literature Association, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (October 1989). (1.) D'ArcyMcNickle, Wind from an Enemy Sky University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1988. Subsequent references to and quotations from this novel are from this edition and are identified by page number. (2.) Cases involving Native American religious freedom include: The Taos Blue Lake legislation (PL91-550, 1970) which revested 48,000 acres of the Carson National Forest to the Pueblo de Taos Indians providing that the Indians(1) "use the lands for traditional purposes only" including religious ceremonials, and (2)that "the lands shall remain forever wild and shall be maintained as a wilderness as defined in section 2 (c) of the Act of September 3, 1964 (78 Stat.890); Badoni v. Higginson, 638 F.2d 172 (10th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 452 U. S. 954 (1981), regarding Navajo rights at Rainbow Bridge, Utah; Sequoyah v. Tennesse VaIley Authority, 620 F.2d 1159 (6th Cir.1980),cert.denied,449 U.S.953 (1980), regarding Cherokee rights in the Little Tennessee River Valley; Wilson v. Block, 708 F.2d 735 (D.C. Cir. 1983) regarding Hopi and Navajo rights in the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona; Frank Fools Crow v. Gullet, 706 F.2d 856 (8th Cir. 1983), regarding Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne rights at Bear Butte, South Dakota; Northwest Indian Protective Association, et al. (86-1013 U.S.) regarding Yurok, Karok, and Tolowa rights in the high country of the Six Rivers National Forest, California. In addition, a plethora of Native American religious liberty articles have emerged from these cases; among these Susan Shawn Harjo, "American Indian Religious Freedom: Another Hollow Promise," The Civil Rights Quarterly: Perspectives, Spring 1982, v. 14(1) voices the position which I suggest herein. (3.) This theme is reflected in the following reviews: Anonymous, "McNickle, Wind from an Enemy Sky," Publisher's Weekly, August 28, 1978, v. 214:388 call it "a tragic collision of cultures" and, incidentally, finds an erroneous claim that the dam was built to bring water to the Indians; Whitney Jones, "McNickle, Wind from an Enemy Sky," Library Journal, N. 1, 1978, v. 103:2262 states that the "novel examines the clash between white and Indian values" and rightly recognizes "the white man's failure to comprehend the spiritual meaning of the earth"; A. Lavone Rouff, "McNickle, Wind frpm an Enemy Sky," American Indian Quarterly, May l979, v. 5:167-169 and again in Studies in American Indian Literatures, Fall 1985, v. 9(4):160-162 declares that the novel deals with "the cultural clash between the Indian and non-Indian worlds; Carol Hunter, "D'Arcy McNickle, Wind from an Enemy Sky, World Literature Today, Winter 1980, v. 54:156-157 suggests that the novel "carries forth the contemporary theme that the American Indian is a victim of society," and Jack W. Schneider, "McNickle, Wind from an Enemy Sky," Western American Literature, Spring 1981, v. 16(1):87-98 contends that the novel "provides a fresh perspectives of the theme of the subjugation of the Native people by the white man." (4.) This theme is expressed in Louis Owens, "The Red Road to Nowhere: D'Arcy McNickle's The Surrounded and |The Hungry Generations,'" American Indian Quarterly, Su. 1989, v. 13(3):239-248; also in Owens,"The |Map of the Mind': D'Arcy McNickle and the American Indian Novel," Western American Literature, Winter l985, v. 19(4):275-283, Specifically where he comments "Few Writers have given us darker pictures of the relationship between the Indian and white worlds than has McNickle" (p. 275); again in Owens,"Afterword,"to McNickle, Wind pp. 257-265, where he declares "McNickle's theme is precisely what it was in The Surrounded : the difficulty, verging on impossibility, of communication, and the tragic consequences this entails" (p.261); and less so in Thekla Zachrau, N. Scott Momaday: Towards an Indian Identity," American Indian Cultural and Research Journal, 1979, v. 3(1):39-56. (5.) Alan R. Velie,"Indians in Fiction: The shadow of the Trickster," American Indian Cultural and Research Journal, 1979, v. 3(1):39-56. (6.) For a compelling articulation of this point, see Paula Gunn Allen, "The Mythopoeic Vision in Native American Literature: The Problem of Myth," American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 1974, v. 1(1):3-13; Christopher Vecsey, "Mythography," Imagine Ourselves Richly: Mythic Narratives of North American Indians, Crossroad Press, New York, 1988: 1-33 provides a thorough study of the subject; further acknowledging myth's literaty role are Vernon E. Lattin, "The Quest for Mythic Vision in Contemporary Native American and Chicano Fiction," American Literature, 1979, v. 50:625-640; and Susan Lepselter, "Topic of Transformation: Some Aspects of Myth and Metaphor," Studies in American Indian Literatures, v. 10(3):148-160. (7.) Ake Hultkrantz, Belief and Worship in Native North American, edited by Christopher Vecsey, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1981:3-19 has pointed out that myth is primarily a religious concept; Joseph Epes Brown, "The Immediacy of Mythological Message," The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian, Crossroad Press, New York, 1982:83-100 has expressed the central theme of mythic time; Ruth M. Underhill, Red Man's Religion, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965:31 referencing origin myths, declares,"The actual genesis story was sacred and known only to specialists, something like the chained Bible in the medieval church." Furthermore, these are distinguished from "adventurous and comic tales" that are "mostly about animals, which can be told by anyone who knows them. Among adults, they served for entertainment and reminders of the tribal ethics. With children, they were one of the chief means of instruction." Showing scorn for greed and disobedience, "The tales made it plain that behavior of that sort always brought disaster."Concurring, Deward E. Walker, Jr. Myths of the Idaho Indians University of Idaho Press, Moscow, 1980:7 remarks that "In addition to their explanatory function, myths also serve as mechanisms for educating children, stimulating social interaction, and amusements;" see Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1986:35 specifically references the teachings and normitive role of mythic stories among the Kalispel - a Salish an people; also see I Howard L. Harrod, Renewing the World: Plains Indian Religion and Morality, Morality, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1987:166-169 is also helpful in acknowledging the trickster as negative guardian ofa normative moral order. (8) This mythic time frame is also expressed during Bull's ride to the agency (129): "But he was traveling through time and over mountains and prairies ofthought and feeling." (9.) McNickle, Wind, (p.24)" A time when the plover cried and the song of meadowlarks wove the world together," (p.32), Henry Jim - " the song was again on his breath. Telling of a time when the plover cried" - i.e., of creation in ongoing and everactive array via the songs and the singing; (pp.55-56), "the singing went shrill, and as suddenly it turned to a bird song. First the plover was crying: ke-ree, ke-ree, ke-ree. Then the meadowlark fluted: tu-lee, tu-lu, tu-lee, tu-lu-lee-ul;" and finally (p. 256) as the novel concludes, "That day, the cry of the plover was heard everywhere ... ke-ree, ke-ree,ke-ree. No Meadowlarks sang and the world fell apart "as we realize that something terribly wrong has developed in humanity's moral relationship with creation. (10.) North Peigan elder, Joe Crowshoe, Sr. (Brocket, Alberta, CANADA) related the following story to me about the character of Native song. He explained that a priest once told him, "You Indians don't have a hymn book." Crowshoe thought for a moment in deep silence and then eplied: "We have a song book. The Nature is our hymn book." Moreover, Spirit Power is recalled in a formal manner through singing and this power is inextricably caught up with nature. Cf., Verne F. Ray, Cultural Relations in the Plateau of Northwestern American, Los Angeles, 1939:79. The power of song is expressed in several instances in Wind, (pp. 56-57), "Birds fell silent as the group rode by. Pine branches hung low and still. The water in a roadside pool was as stiff as glass. The earth itself listened as the men, rode on;" (p. 83) Henry Jim "will stay alive until the singing stops" and (pp. 126-127) he must hear the singing to live; also (p. 239) where the meaning of songs is expressive of calling or bespeaking power as, for example, in the warm, sun above, morning freshness, and evening shadow. (11.) With origins in western exploration and the fur-trade days, the name "Flathead" is a misnomer which mistakenly implies head deformation; referring to themselves as the Salish, this tribe never deformed their heads. See Albert J. Partoll, "The Flatheads," in The Red Man's West, edited by] Michael S. Kennedy, Hastings House, New York, 1965:33-44. (12.) McNickle's ethnic heritage is biographically expressed in James Ruppert, D'Arcy McNickle, Western Writers Series, no. 83, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, 1988:5-15. The Cree Metis were without a reservation for many years during the settlement ofthe tribes and McNickle's people were drawn to the Flathead Reservation for lack of a place of their own. See Verne Dusenberry, The Montana Cree. A Study in Religious Persistence, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religions, no. 3, Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm, 1962:28, who explains that "The Cree are in Montana as a result of the Riel Rebellion in Canada in 1885." Evidence is presented that the Cree attempted to settle among the Flathead in August 1887 and that they remained on the reservation until 1909 (p. 33), and John Fahey, The Flathead Indians, University of Oklahoma Press, 1974:238-240. McNickle's adoption within the Flathead Nation affirms a Salish tradition within the Salish tradition that "An individual receives his nationality, not from the place of his nativity, but from the place where he resides the greater portion of his life," see Ray, Cultural Relations, p. 7. (13.) The events of Garfield's negotiation with Charlot are recorded in Fahey, The Flathead Indians, pp. 163-166; Senator Vest's investigation and Charlot's stand in the Bitterroot Valley is further reported in Fahey, Flathead Indians, pp. 232-234. Peter Ronan, History of the Flathead Indians, Ross & Haines, Inc., Minneapolis, 1980:58-68, 71-75, 81-83 reports this matter and explains that "Chief Charles [Charlot] never recognized Arlee afterwards; never spoke to him nor visited him up to the day of his death."

Furthermore, the suggestion of historical antecedents in McNickle's fiction is likewise apparent in his earlier novel, The Surrounded, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1978. This point is acknowledged in Owens, "|Map,'" p. 283, fn., 3 where he points to Michel Pablo as the model for character Max Leon in the The surrounded, see also, Owens, "Afterword," p. 260 declaring "While The Surrounded draws heavily upon McNickle's own experiences on the Flathead Reservation and reflects very directly the history of Flathead-white relations, in Wind from an Enemy Sky the author draws his knowledge of the Salish people to create a fictional tribe in a fictionalized setting." In addition, see James Teit, "Salishan Tribes of the Western Plateau," edited by Franz Boas, 45th Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1930: 23-396 at p. 312 where Teit reports Snye'lemen or Snia'lemen, near present St. Ignatius, Montana as meaning "encircled" or surrounded." (14.) McNickle's Knowledge of Cree tradition most likely developed during his tenure as founding chairman ofthe Department of Anthropology at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina campus; reference to an engaging exchange between McNickle and a young Cree student is found in Alfonso Ortiz, "Afterword," Runner in the Sun: A Story of Indian Maize, by D'Arcy McNickle, University of New Mexico Press, Alburquerque, 1987, pp. 235-236. This incident also reveals an aspect of the positive influence upon Native students manifest in McNickle's fiction; implicit in the young Cree student's response to McNickle's work is a Native understanding which appears to affirm the work's mythic quality. For discussion of Cree traditions see Dusenberry, The Montana Cree, pp. 28-46. (15.) Kootenai Falls, near Libby, Montana, is regularly threatened with hydroelectric schemes; in 1982 while testifying against such a project, I became aware of the claims asserted herein, cf. Northern Lights, Inc., Project No.2752-000, 27 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, April 23,1984. Furthermore,the dams along the Mission front are rated among the most dangerous in the United States presenting highly legitimate disaster potential (Missoulian, October 1989). (16.) The savage dogma which guided European attitudes toward Indians is explored in Roy Harvey Pearce, Savagism and Civilization. A Study ofthe Indian and the American Mind, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1953; for further articulation ofthis theme, see Bernard W. Sheehan, Savagism ind Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980; although this thesis has not been tracked through United States Indian policy, it is a highly developed concept among historians: cf.Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., The White Man's lndian, Random House, New York, 1978; Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: lndians Colonialism,.and the Cant of Conquest, W.W. Norton Co., New York, 1976.;Brian M. Fagan, Clash of Cultures, W.H. Freeman and Company,New York, 1984; Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT,1973; and Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building, The New American Library, New York, 1980. (17.) McNickle, a victim ofthis boarding school policy, wrote apparently from first-hand experience; Ruppert, McNickle (pp. 6-7) reports that "Against McNickle's and his mother's desires, he was sent away, probably in 1915, to the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon. His boarding school experiences were similar to those other Indian youths. The school was permeated with oppression and intolerance exhibited by teachers convinced of their moral superiority." The United States Commission on Civil Rights reported in 1981 that a dominant policy of Indian assimilation in the later nineteenth century focused on changing Indian "customs,dress,occupations,language,religion,and philosophy." For example,the Carlisle Indian Training school established in 1879 had a "philosophy of separating and forcing them to adopt white ways." Furthermore, " Everything |Indian' came under attack. Indian feasts, languages, certain marriage practices, dances, and any practices by medicine or religious persons were all banned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs." See Indian Tribes: A Continuing Quest for Survival, A Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, June 1981:20.

Historian Frederick Turner called this effort, at Carlisle School, "education-by-humiliation," in his Beyond Geography:.The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness, The Viking Press, New York, 1980:287-288. (18.) Pearce, Savagism, ff.; Sheehan, Savagism and Civility, pp. 20-21, 38,68,99,124, and 150. The dogma ofsavagism asserts that nature must be "improved" with decisive marks imposed upon the environment and only when a culture has accomplished this "improvement" are they recognized as a civilized people. See also, John Passmore, Man's Responsibility for Nature: Ecological Problems and Western Traditions, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1974:173-195 who argues that the perfection, as in development, of nature is primarily what "man's responsibility" is all about. (19.) McNickle was no doubt aware ofthe early conversion ofthe Flathead tribe to Christianity; moreover, about one-third ofthe total were baptized into the Catholic faith on December 3,1841 by Father DeSmet. Ronan, Flathead Indians, p. 27 characterizes this act as "the charitable and supernatural motive ofcivilizing and Christianizing the savages of the forest ofthe Rocky Mountains." Thereby evidencing the arrogant rationalization for Indian conquest and thus inviting a proper rebuttal such as McNickle delivers. Further historical evidence ofthe Flathead conversion is found in Teit, "Salishshan Tribes," p. 385. Father Gregory Mengarini, S. J., Recollections of the Flathead Mission: Containing Brief Observitions both Ancient and Contemporary Concerning this Particular Nation, translated, edited, and introduced by Gloris Ricci Lothrop, The Arthur H. Clark Co., Glendale, CA, 1977 provides a first-hand account of the Flathead Mission ofthe 1840s; Fahey, The Flathead Indians, pp. 64-88; cf, John Ewers, "Iroquois in the Far West," in Red Man's West, pp. 128-136 for the role which these eastern Indians, turned trappers, played in introducing Christianity among the Flatheads. (20.) The practice of slaughtering horses at graveside was given up after conversion to Christianity, see Fahey, The Flathead Indians p. 79; accordingly, McNickle's intention is to re-assert the traditional religious practice, on behalf of Henry Jim. (21.) J. Baird Callicott, "Traditional American Indian and Western European Attitudes toward Nature: An Overview," Environmental Ethics, Winter 1982, v. 4(4):248. (22.).Donald Hughes and Jim Swan, "How Much of the Earth is Sacred Space?," Environmental Review, Winter 1986, v. 10(4):248 (23.) Harrod, Plains Indian Religion, p. 166 suggest this religious connection of myth with prominent tribal ecological surroundings; John E. Andrist, editor, Coyote and the Colville, St. Mary's Mission, Omak, Wa 1971: 10 declares that "Many of the legends here relate directly to geographical points." Walker, Myths of the Idaho Indians, p. 7 cites "geography of territory" as a prominent factor associated with the explanatory function of myth; Fahey, Kalispel Indians, p. 37 confirms that "familiar places evoked stories that linked Kalispels to a mythical past or recalled a significant event. Like other Salish, Kalispel felt a spiritual essence in particular rock formations, singular trees, and other phenomena." Clark, Indian Legends, p. xi implies a theme of sacred geography with reference to "landscape legends." (24.) Roger Dunsmore, "Reflections on Wind from an Enemy Sky," Studies In American Indian Literatures, Winter 1987, v. 11(1):38-59 views the "killing of the waters" (p. 3) as "the central insight of the novel" (p. 41) Proceedings on this insight, Dunsmore delivers an evocative essay addressing "the killing of the waters;" his thesis is comportable with the ecological egalitarian insight conluded herein. (25.) Harry H.Turney-High, "The Flathead Indians of Montana," Memoirs American Anthropological Association,,no. 48, 1937:42 references a Midsummer Festival among the Flatheads, however, the ethnography is unclear regarding a summer dance. Both Turney-High, Flathead Indians, (p.34) and Teit, Salishan Tribes; (pp.386-387) report a first fruit dance which included a prayer for abundance. It is significant to note that Ruby and Brown, Spokane Indians (p.32),declarethat "The Spokanes worshiped their creator, Amotkan, with dancing." Furthermore, I have been Informed by knowledgeable sources that a grass dance is held during the summer. (26.) Reference to the role of spirit powers, vision or guardian spirit quest rites, and dreaming to sacred geography has been specifically documented in my "Traditional Blackfeet Religion and the Sacred Badger-Two Medicine Wildlands," Journal of Law and Religion, 1988, v. 6(2):455-489; in acknowledging mountain-wilderness areas as important spirit locales among the Salishan peoples, Turney-High," Flathead Indians," p. 27, Ray, "Cultural Relations," pp. 71,74, Teit, Salishshan Tribes," pp. 383-384, Clark, Indian Legends, p. 27, and Deward E. Walker Jr., Indians of Idaho, University of Idaho Press, Moscow, 1978:159-160, are also helpful. (27.) McNickle, Wind, p. 130 reaffirms this point when Bull reflects in self doubt brought on by anger induced displacement:

Two Sleeps had come from a vigil in the mountains on many occasions to tell how he had dreamed and how peace would be restored: Bull remembered those times,how he accused the old holy man of meddling, and how afterward in anger he went himself to the mountains and had no vision of his own. (28.) Independently confirming the teachings of Two Sleeps' vision in the foregoing passage, I once 9heard North Peigan elder, Joe Crowshoe, Sr., Brocket, Alberta, Canada, addressing students at Blackfeet Community College, Browning, Montana (January 1989) declare: "the landscape will teach you who you are." Thus, he implied the power, kinship, interdependence, and reciprocity which is associated with place, vision, and inherent nature theophanies. (29.) Harry Turney-High, "The Bluejay Dance," American Anthropologist, n.s., 1933, v. 35:105. Clark, Indian Legends (pp. 110-111) calls the Bluejay dance" the principal expression of the hopes and woes ofthe Montana Salish." The narrative, "Sheep Face Mountain," in Clark (pp. 104-106) refers to McDonald Peak in the mission Range and the area around Post Creek where the animals, birds, and fish tribes counciled; she (pp. 112-114), also records a narrative where the Thunderbird was given North Crow Creek Canyon of the Mission Range as a home; in addition, "The Legend of the Pileated Woodpecker and Grizzly Bear Brothers," George F. Weisel, "Ten Myths of the Flathead Indians," paper no. 18, Anthropology and Sociology papers, University of Montana, n.d., p. 7, is recognized as taking place "just east of St. Ignatius, against the Mission Mountains," further confirming this areas' claim to sacred geography. (30.) Louisa McDermott, "Folklore of the Flathead Indians of ldaho: Adventures of Coyote," Journal of American Folklore, Oct.-Dec. 1901, v. 14 (54):240-241; Walker, Myths of the Idaho Indians, p. 44; Clark, Indian Legends, pp. 95-98; and Fahey, The Flathead Indians," p. 3; (31.) Clark, Indian Legends pp. 91-98 and 135-139; Turney-High, "Flathead Indians," p. 14; McDermott,"Folklore of the Flathead Indians," pp.241-242; Walker, Myths ofthe Idaho Indians, p.45; and Mengarini, Recollections, pp. 149-154.

Amotkan may refer both to "He-who-lives-on-high" and "Somewhere up high," Turney-High, Flathead Indians" (pp. 147,42,22); or as Creator, several references are given including "Big Spirit Above, Sky Chief, Power of the Upper World, and Highest mystery," Clark, Indian Legends, (pp.82,75,and 112). (32.) Walker, Myths of the Idaho Indians p. 45; Weisel, "Animal Myths," p. 10; Clark, Indian Legends, pp. 98-100 who also reports Coyote's gift to the people of healing waters at Lolo Hot Springs; and Turney-High, "Flathead Indians," p. 125. (33.) On the Medicine Tree and ceremonial dance ground, see, George F. Weisel, Jr., "The Ram's Horn Tree and Other Medicine Trees of the Flathead Indians," Montana:Western History, Summer 1951, v.1:5-14;Clark, Indian Legends, pp.91-95,101;Turney-High,"Flathead lndians," pp.34-35; and McDermott, "Folklore of the Flathead Indians," pp. 242-247.

Regarding St. Mary's Peak, see Mengarini, Recollections (pp.161,191) who references the peak in relation to St, Mary's Mission (1841) and noted that this place was called Lkaetlemelsch, wooden place, by the Salish; see also Clark, Indian Legends, pp. 132-135; and Turney-High, "Flathead Indians," pp. 33-34. (34.) Brown, Spiritual Legacy, p.110. (35.) Richard Forbis, "Religious Acculturation of the Flathead Indians of Montana," Master's Thesis, Montana State University (today - University of Montana), Missoula, 1950:pp 23-65; Richard Forbis, "The Flathead Apostasy," Montana:western History, Winter 1951, v. 4:35-40;and Turney-High, "Bluejay Dance," pp. 103-107. (36.) Clark Wissler, "Ceremonial Bundles of the Blackfoot Indians," Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, v. 7(2):65-298. (37.) Robert H. Lowie, The Crow Indians, University of Nebraska Press, Bison Books, Lincoln, 1983:344. Lowie also defined Crow medicine bundles simply as "wrapped-up aggregations of sacred objects." (38.) Bernard E. Richert, "Plains Indian Medicine Bundles," Master's Thesis, University of Texas, Austin, 1969:179. Based upon the foregoing definition, Jeffrey R. Hanson, "Structure and Complexity of Medicine Bundle Systems of Selected Plains Indian Tribes," Plains Anthropologist, August 1980, v.25 (89): 200 concludes that major aspects of the medicine bundle complex include: "the concept of supernatural power, the vision quest; symbolic objects kept inwrappings; ritual components of songs and prayers; taboos; and the general purpose of medicine bundles in granting power to certain beneficiaries:" (39.) Hanson, "Medicine Bundles Systems," p. 200. (40.) Wildschut, "Crow Indian Medicine Bundles," p. vii. (41.) Cf.., Hultkrantz, Belief and Worship, chapters 7-10; see also Harrod,Plains Indian Religion, p. 5. (42.) Harrod, Plains Indian Religion (p. 68) states this position, declaring that "Medicine bundles, then, will be interpreted as complex symbolic realities which are associated with various dimensions of transcendent meaning." (43.) See Brown, Spiritual Legacy (p. 72) who explains "there tends to be a unity between that to which it refers. The tree at the center of the Sun Dance lodge does not just represent the axis of the world, but is that axis and is the center of the world. The eagle is not a symbol of the sun, but similarly, the sun is not a symbol of the Creative Principle, but is that Principle as manifested in the sun." (44.) More a medicine bag than a bundle, Flathead bundles are largely individual, see Teit, "Salishan Tribes," (p. 384) who confirms that "men kept skins, feathers, hairs, claws, and other parts of animals and birds, which were representations of their guardian spirits, and also charms, roots, etc., in medicine bags of leather, rawhide cases, or small specially made parfleches:" Turney-High, "Flathead Indians," p. 28 refers to these as "little sumesh bundles." Also see, Walker, Indians of Idaho, (p. 160) who in reflecting upon a youth's vision-tutelary experience among the Salish, explains "He prepared a small bundle in which were kept various items symbolic of his power, and he periodically performed rituals necessary to keep his power strong." (45.) Robert H. Lowie, Indians of the Plains University of Nebraska Press, Bison Books, Lincoln, 1982:125-126. (46.) Fine Day, My Cree People, Good Medicine Books, Invermere, BC, 1973: 18. (47.) George G. Kipp, III referencing an area known as the Badger-Two Medicine, Lewis and Clark National Forest in personal communication, Heart Butte, Montana, 1986; see also Keith Schultz, "Sacred Lands," Missoula Muse, 1987, v. 2(1):7. (48.) Wildschut, "Crow Indian Medicine Bundles," pp.9,6-7. Lowie, Indians of the Plains, p.160; Joseph Epes Brown, "Conceptions of the Animals among the Oglala Sioux: A Study of Religious values in the Ecology of a Nomadic Hunting People," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Stockhol, Sweden, 1970:131 who cites fetish-containing bundles "as a resource assuring the continuing actualization of the expressed quality in the life and behaviorof the individual, and as a continuing affirmation of the reality and intensity of the initial vision or dream experience." (49.) Wissler,"Ceremonial Bundles," pp.191-192; and Walterm McClintock, Thel Old North Trail: Life, Legends and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians, University of Nebraska Press, Bison Books, 1968: 104-112. Harrod, Plains Indian Religion, p. 19 citing John C. Ewers, The Blackfeet: Raiders of the Northwestern Plains, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1958: 17-18. (50.) North Peigan elder Joe Crowshoe, Sr., Brocket, Alberta, Canada gave this explanation prior to opening his Thunder Pipe bundle, June 1988. (51.) Dusenberry, The Montana Cree (p. 107) declares this conception of spirits to be the most difficult thing to comprehend in the study of Indian religion. David G. Mandelbaum, The Plains Cree, Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, 1979:157-158 explains spirit power to be the natural phenomena by definition in these traditions. Wildschut, "Crow Indian Medicine Bundles," (p. 152) cites Francois Laroque, a Northwest Company trader, who in 1805 observed Crow religious practices and stated, "What they call spirits are quadrupeds or fowls which the[y] think acts as guardian angels. They have no notion [of spirits] in the [sensel we have it is certain." In addition, there is substantial evidence to confirm this metaphysic within the Salish-Kootenai traditions, cf., Ray, Cultural Relations, p. 68, 70-71; Walker, Indians of Idaho, p. 163; and Fahey, The Kalispel, p. 33 reflecting on Kalispel relations with the kingfisher and, ibid, pp. 35-36 referencing Coyote as a spirit. (52.) The medicine bundle tradition's role in sustaining a Native Environmental ethic is generally acknowledged in Harrod, Plains Indian Religion, Fine Day, My Cree People, p.21 contributes an important point, stating that "A man tries not to kill the Animal of his power," this point is specifically acknowledged in Turney-High, "Flathead Indians" (p. 37) where a person avoids the flesh of their medicine animal. Invoking this sense of moral restraint the bundle religion manifests an environmental ethic. Given modern assaults upon nature and wildlands, this ethic translates into an advocacy for wilderness and other means of species and habitat protection.

Further realizing the religious character of medicine bundles, Wildschut," Crow Indian Medicine Bundles," (p. 18) acknowledges the power and effect of singing the respective sacred songs associated with thc bundle ceremonies; Francis Densmore, "The Belief of the Indian in a Connection between Song and the Supernatural," Anthropological Papers no. 37, Bulletin of American Ethnology, no. 151, Washington, DC, 1953:219 declares "Song is a means through which that strength is believed to come to him.' Such songs, specifically the |Dream Song' were believed to have been received directly from the bird or animal encountered in vision or dream; within such songs resided the particular power of the tutelary, but here possessed in more abstract mode than the tangible fetish prepared for the man's medicine bundle. In many of these songs it is the animal or bird who states his name, so that in singing the song there would be the tendency of the singer to conceive not only a contact with the animal's power, but an actual type of identification with the animal." In a specific Salish context, see Ray, "Cultural Relations," (p.79) concerning the formal relationship between spirit-power and singing; cf. Fahey, The Flathead Indians, (p. 14) who acknowledges that special songs summon spirit power or sumesh; on Kootenai, See Carling Malouf and Thain White,"Recollections of Lasso Stasso," Paper No.12, Anthropology and Sociology Papers, University of Montana, Missoula, 1952, (p.2) referring to Stasso becoming a shaman: "|It is the song that does it. The power is in the song.'" See also, Walker, Indians of Idaho, p. 160; and Fahey, Kalispel Indians, p. 36 for additional Salishan references to songs and their power. (53.) This point is affirmed by Owens, "Afterword" (pp. 261-262) who declares "Henry Jim has alienated his people not only by turning to the white man's road, but even more so by attempting to turn his people from the old ways by giving away Featherboy, the most powerful of the tribe's medicine bundles." (54.) Acknowledging Coyote's mortality and the need for a special helper, Amotkan gave Fox the ability to bring Coyote back to life. See Clark, Indian Legends, pp. 33,84; and Fahey, The Flathead Indians, p. 3.
COPYRIGHT 1993 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Vest, Jay Hansford C.
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Dreaming of double woman: the ambivalent role of the female artist in North American Indian myth.
Next Article:The Comanches as aboriginal skeptics.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |