Native American Culture and History in Montana
by Hitomi Farrell
Beyond Montana’s amazing landscape and national parks, there are 12 Native American tribes in Montana, and they represent 6.3 percent of the state’s population. You can’t really talk about American culture and history without learning about the Native Americans, and Montana is a wonderful place to experience a variety of Native American culture and tradition. I visited several Native American museums and reservations during my time in Montana.
Historic arts at Museum of the Plains Indian
The Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning had exhibits that represent the rich diversity of the historic arts of the tribe. I was able to learn a lot about Native American artists and its craftsmen through the exhibits of traditional costumes, ceremonial aspects and works of art.
Blackfeet Heritage Center
Across the street from the Museum of the Plains Indian is the Blackfeet Heritage Center. As I walked around, enjoying the detailed and skilled art exhibits, a Blackfeet elder, Ernie approached me. He told me all about the tribe’s history, customs and rituals. At burials, the Blackfeet would put the deceased on a tree and leave it there for good, and their significant others would cut their hair or even fingers to show respect to the spirit. The elder also talked about a festival Pow Wow and a religious ceremony called The Pipe Ceremony.
Out of all the stories he shared with me, one thing in particular stayed in my mind deeply. It was about how they respected the animals – their healing power, the instinct and predictions of things. The Native Americans would name themselves after animal names out of respect, he said. I learned a lot here.
Experience the Life of Blackfeet Indians
In the open land on the Indian reservation, a number of tipis sat quietly. As we walked into the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village, the owner/artist, Darrell, gave us a warm welcome. The Gallery exhibits pieces such as crafts and drums that are made out of elk and bison hide, which can also be purchased as gifts. Here, you can enjoy cultural history tours to historical sites around the reservation. At night, we enjoyed traditional Blackfeet Indian cuisine, and slept in a tipi... This was truly THE place to experience Native American life, including authentic culture, history and customs.
After learning about the Native Americans history, culture and present in Montana, I felt like I had learned about America in a true sense. We got back on the road satisfied, knowing more about the Native Americans in Montana. The knowledge and experience I received here will be a precious treasure in my heart forever.