The Sacred Essence of Blackfoot Culture


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December 6, 2023

The Sacred Essence of Blackfoot Culture

“Our way of life is a collective. All Blackfoot people are one.” – Johnathon Red Gun (Siksika) 

In Blackfoot Territory, a powerful people is in relationship with a powerful place. At the Continental Divide, the snow-capped Rocky Mountains leap out from prairies that stretch out flat for what feels like forever. Rivers from Blackfoot Territory flow across much of North America, and the Blackfoot see their territory as the source of water for this vast continent. 

Spend time with a group of people from the Blackfoot Confederacy who are resisting ongoing colonialism, awakening their culture, listening to elders, and regaining sovereignty of their land, language, and spirit. As Liz Fox (Kainai) shares, “Living your culture and wanting to preserve it; there’s a lot of work that goes into it, and there’s a lot of peace that comes from it.” In addition to Liz Fox, we’re also honored to share the voices and stories of Doane Crow Shoe (Piikani), Rose Fox (Kainai), Johnathon Red Gun (Siksika), Tyson Running Wolf (Blackfeet Nation), and Lona Running Wolf (Blackfeet, Haida, Little Shell Creek.) There are four tribes within the Blackfoot Confederacy: Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, and Amskapi Piikani (commonly referred to as Blackfeet Nation.) 

This episode includes interviews and audio from the Wayfinders Circle film “Siksikaitsitapi,” which has been co-created with the Blackfoot Confederacy and directed by Bryan Gunnar Cole, with additional production support from Nils Cowan and Jacob Bearchum.  

We’re grateful for the collaboration on this story with the Blackfoot Confederacy, which is part of the Wayfinders Circle. Wayfinders Circle is a global network of Indigenous Peoples from around the world who work to strengthen self-determination in managing their lands and territories and maintain the cultural and spiritual continuity through intergenerational transmissions. It is a joint effort convened by the Pawanka Fund, World Union of Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners, and Nia Tero. 

Special thanks also to Nia Tero colleagues Mariana López, Marianna Olinger, Michael Painter, and David Rothschild. 

Host: Jessica Ramirez. Producer and Audio Mix: Jenny Asarnow: Story Editor: Jacob Bearchum.  


The Sacred Essence of Blackfoot Culture
Season 3 Episode 13
December 6, 2023

[We hear the sound of footsteps crunching on snow]

[00:00:07] Tyson Running Wolf (Blackfeet Nation): We didn’t know that there was any tipi rings down here, and then once we start dancing and stickin’ around, we seen this big ring and they’re like, “Holy smokes, look at this one here!”

[the sound of crunching footsteps continues] 

This is a hell of a big tipi ring, this bugger here—thirty foot diameter-plus tipi ring. It’s old, I know that, but what I mean by old, ancient rings; they could date them, but I’d probably say they’re anywhere between 800 to 1,000 year-old tipi ring, this one here.  

[Seedcast theme music begins and plays in the background] 

[00:00:56] Tyson: This isn’t uncommon for this area, there’s tipi rings all over in here. Beautiful.  

[00:01:07] Jessica Ramirez: This is Seedcast. I’m Jessica Ramirez. And we’re with Tyson Running Wolf in Blackfoot Territory, on Turtle Island. People here have been practicing their ways for thousands of years, and resistance to colonialism is ongoing. Today, there are a group of Blackfoot Peoples who are building strength, awakening their culture, listening to elders, and regaining sovereignty of their land, language, and spirit.  

Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami: We are standing, hear our calling, we are rooted to the ground we’re here to stay. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down, we’re here to stay… 

[00:02:08] Tyson: These folks that were elders, having the persistence and the will to survive, is why we’re still here today. 

[animal noises play in the background] 

If you want to know more, then you’re gonna have to make that decision; and the only way you get to know is if you’re involved deeper.

[animal noises and the sounds of birds continues]

[00:02:39] Doane Crow Shoe (Piikani): So, Blackfoot Confederacy is comprised of four tribes: We have Piikani, we have Amskapii Piikuni, we have Kainai, Siksika.  

[00:02:51] Jessica: This is Doane Crow Shoe.  

[00:02:53] Doane: Well, first and foremost, I’m a member of Piikani Nation. I’ve been elected to the Chief in Council in the Councillor position since January 2007. That’s who I am.  

[00:03:07] Jessica: The Piikani Nation is one part of the larger Blackfoot Confederacy.  

[00:03:11] Doane: Our territory extends from the Continental Divide down to Yellowstone, to the North Saskatchewan River, and east of the Sandhills. So that’s the area that we try our best to protect and look after. That’s still our land base, that territory. The language, the stories, the song, all become part of that area. So that area becomes a part of a song. It’s reciprocal. Those four tribes, they comprise the Blackfoot Confederacy, or what we call Siksikaitsitapi. That’s who the Confederacy is, and that’s the people.  

[we hear the sound of an elk call]

[00:04:02] Jessica: Blackfoot territory is stunning, and diverse. There are clear blue lakes, and rivers, and wetlands, and steaming hot springs. At the Continental Divide, snow-capped Rocky Mountains leap out from the prairies that stretch out flat for what feels like forever. Blackfoot see their territory as the source of water for North America. Rivers from here flow across much of this vast continent—north to the Arctic Circle, east to the Atlantic Ocean, and west to the Pacific Ocean. And it’s no surprise that this powerful place is in relationship with a powerful people.  

[the sound of waterbirds trumpeting and other bird sounds plays in the background] 

Doane, along with Tyson Running Wolf and Lona Running Wolf, Rose Fox, and Liz Fox, and Johnathon Red Gun are some of the people in Blackfoot territory who are deeply reconnecting to and rebuilding Blackfoot wisdom and ceremony. A strong spirit is essential to living in good relationship with the land.  

[melodic electric guitar music plays] 

[00:05:08] Tyson: We’ve always had a Blackfoot Confederacy, even in the old ancient times. I have relatives that are in each of the other four bands, and family. We all speak the same language, all the same customs, all have the same societies and same culture.  

[00:05:27] Jessica: Every summer here for thousands of years, people gather for the circle camp, the [Blackfoot name].  

[00:05:34] Tyson: They would all pull together and have the summer solstice dance, and they would celebrate to the sun, and practice our ways. They all would be there for two, three weeks at that one big circle camp in [Blackfoot name].  

[00:05:54] Liz Fox (Kainai): It’s this big celebration that is also the time when we bring our bundles out, and we have our ceremonies, and we give thanks for the year and blessings for the next year, and all of those things that we do.

[we hear the sound of jingles, drumming, singing, and ceremony in the background] 

[00:06:06] Rose Fox (Kainai): It’s a celebration of life. I think that’s the closest I can get; especially when I mention the summer solstice, you know, rebirth of everything. The grass growing, the trees growing, you know, we appreciate where we come from, where we live, and we take care of Mother Earth.  

[00:06:37] Johnathon Red Gun (Siksika): And that’s where the unity comes as well, where all people come in. And there’s different reasons why people come to the circle camp. Some are curious. They want to experience the sacredness of the ceremonies. Some, they come to get their face painted. And also, a place where people come to for salvation, for wellness, for healing.  

[introspective melodic music plays] 

[00:07:14] Lona Running Wolf (Blackfeet, Haida, Little Shell Creek): When I first saw the [Blackfoot name], that was the first time I was like, I felt that connection, like, “This is who I am. I know this is who I am.” And I wanted to know more. 

[00:07:26] Rose: It is so awesome, the peace you feel. You don’t want to leave.  

[00:07:34] Liz: We’re not a broken people. We’re not colonized. We’ve never lost who we are. Living your culture and wanting to preserve it, there’s a lot of work that goes into it, and there’s a lot of peace that comes from it.  

I like to be called Liz. I’m a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. I’m also a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and a full-blooded member of the Blood Tribes.  

[00:08:05] Jessica: Liz Fox is sitting in her kitchen in Cardston, Alberta, near the reserve land of the Kainai Nation; otherwise known as the Blood Tribe.  

[00:08:14] Liz: I do have a Blackfoot name. I can’t say it, so I just don’t even attempt it, but it’s “Woman With the Last Gun”. It’s not that I don’t understand Blackfoot, but, I think that because we’re the first generation after residential school, and our parents were beat for speaking the language; they didn’t speak it at home. But it also was like, “No, we want you to fit in, in the non-Native world, more than we need you to fit in at home.”  

I was born in Browning, and then I lived in Missoula, and so we moved to Canada when I was about twelve.  

[00:08:52] Jessica: The territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy lies on both sides of the U.S./Canada political border, and Liz belongs to tribes on both sides of that line. 

[00:09:02] Liz: The border to us, it’s this imaginary line that you drew in the sand that we’ve never recognized. To us, those were just our family to the south of us.  

[00:09:15] Jessica: The histories and political realities are different on each side. Growing up in the United States, Liz wasn’t as exposed to the sacred traditions of Blackfoot peoples. It wasn’t until she moved to Canada at age twelve, that she went to her first circle camp. 

[00:09:30] Liz: There was a learning curve, and I can’t lie that there wasn’t. There’s a lot of practices that you have to follow. So it was a lot of, “No, don’t do that.” You know, or, “You have to do it this way.” 

[00:09:41] Jessica: It was also the time that set her on a path for the rest of her life.  

[00:09:45] Liz: Yeah, I started dating Rick, my husband, when we were twelve. He was my first boyfriend, so I kind of grew up in his household too. In Rick’s family, his grandmother, his great grandmother, and her mother before her have had the Motoki Society’s headdress bundle. It’s always been in Rick’s family. 

Sorry, I think somebody’s calling. It might be Rose. Oh, but yeah, that’s fine. 

[introspective melodic music plays]

[00:10:19] Jessica: This is Rick’s mother, Rose; Liz’s mother-in-law. Today, she’s the leader of the Motoki Society and takes care of a sacred bundle. 

[00:10:31] Rose: I think that’s the best thing that’s happened in my life, taking that role. Yeah. I take that very seriously. 

I guess I have to say my English name, Rose Fox. Nobody would recognize me at the bank if I said, [Blackfoot name], but that’s who I am. I want to be known as [Blackfoot name], I am so proud to carry that name. That was my mother’s name. So I’m so proud to be who I am. I’m proud to be Native. And all of us should be proud of who we are, where we come from. But that’s what I would identify myself with. I’m from the Blood Tribe. I’m a [Blackfoot word].  

We grew up by our grandparents, and I’m very fortunate that I did, because my older siblings and my younger siblings went to residential school. I did also, but only for a short time, so I was the only one at home. So grandpa would tell me, [Blackfoot nickname], when you get up in the morning, you look outside. If you see me standing in my doorway, I need your help. So, I really took that seriously. Grandpa always needed help. Either to go collect wood for the fire, or to haul water for the old lady, or to go check his traps, you know, those sorts of things. And I worked outside. That’s why today I don’t like cooking! [laughs] My brothers do—my younger brothers do all. They cook, hey. But I never did like cooking. I’d rather work outside. And it all started with Grandpa—going to do the chores, asking him, “[Blackfoot nickname], what is this?” And Grandpa was so patient. He would tell me, “[Blackfoot nickname], you just listen, and you just watch. You ask too many questions.” [laughs] And I learned from that. We learned not to ask questions anymore. Just listen, and just watch. And so, when my grandfather passed away, from that morning I woke up after Grandpa passed away, everything I looked at made sense. You know, it was just so awesome. I can’t explain it, but everything I looked at made sense. That’s what Grandpa meant. You just watch, you listen, and I don’t know what it was, but to me, everything made sense.  

[introspective music resumes and plays in the background] 

Those bundles are gifted to us to take care of them, and we don’t know how old they are. That particular bundle that I currently hold, I don’t know how old it is, and it’s old. That’s been passed on through our family. So we’re gifted with the opportunity to take care of it.  

[00:14:41] Jessica: So you’re probably wondering, what is a bundle anyway? And I can’t tell you because I don’t know—I’m not Blackfoot. But what I do know is that it’s cared for deeply; that what’s inside the bundle only comes out once a year during the circle camp ceremonies; that bundles have been displayed in museums, and rescued and repatriated by dedicated Blackfoot people. Maybe we can ask ourselves, do we need to know more in order to respect this tradition; to be interested in what it means for the Blackfoot peoples, as individuals, and families, and as a collective? 

[00:15:25] Liz: We’re very protective of who we are and our culture, and that’s just because we have had people come in and steal. We’re very guarded in what we do let in; and when we let people in, we’ll fully let you in, you know, as long as you’re not going to act like Custer and take advantage.  

[00:15:48] Jessica: I wonder if in not knowing more about the bundles, are we standing with and supporting those who protect Blackfoot knowledge, the warriors who keep it only for those who need to know? Blackfoot people share traditional knowledge within sacred societies.  

[00:16:06] Rose: Within our clans, we have societies that start from a very young age, and our children grow with the societies. They’re taught how to, I guess, maybe be warriors, that sort of stuff. And so right now we have four major societies. They start with the young ones, the Pigeons; and then we have the Brave Dogs; and then we have the Motokis—all women’s society; and then the Horn Society. All year we prepare for our annual [Blackfoot name].  

[00:17:03] Liz: Whatever you do, it’s not just you. You’re doing it as your family and your community and your people.  

[00:17:10] Jessica: Rose’s entire family supports her. And Liz, in particular, is her helper. At the circle camp, since Rose is a bundle holder, she is in the middle of the circle.

[00:17:22] Liz: When somebody’s in the circle, they need somebody that’s gonna not only tend to their camp, but also tend to them. We feed them twice a day, like if they need things, we bring them in the circle for them. We do those kinds of things, and that’s you—you’re their helper, and that’s you. So when she makes a vow, or she does this thing, then we decide, “Well, we’re going to do this as well”, because when you take in one of our holy bundles, it’s not just you as an individual, it’s you as a family. You’re all making this commitment. You’re all saying, “Okay, we’re all going to take part in taking care of this child.” Because to us, that’s what they are, they’re a living being. They’re a person that’s with you always. 

[melodic guitar music plays]

You can’t just one day wake up and say, “I want to take X, Y, Z bundle.” There has to be a reasoning behind why, in our culture; that there’s always a how and a why. And the why always has to match up to the how. So for as long as I had been with Ricky, Rose was always content just being the helper. It’s kind of like how I am now. I’m content being the helper because to take on the role of caring for one of these beings is a lot. You change your whole life to fit around them. There’s a lot of protocols—Rose always wears skirts. She’s not allowed to cut her hair. There’s certain protocols around even how she moves because we believe that if she moves too fast, the wind’s going to blow too fast. You know, we believe that she has so much power that she can affect the environment around us. So, you know, there’s a lot of responsibility that falls into that.  

[00:19:04] Rose: My mother was the leader of [Blackfoot name] Motokis for a lot of years, hey. And I took care of my mom. For a long time, my mother was always asking me, “Are you prepared to take the role?” But I wasn’t. I felt I wasn’t ready. So my younger sister stepped up and took Mom’s role, and I took care of my younger sister for quite a number of years. Finally, I decided I was ready.  

[00:19:43] Jessica: Like Liz said, there was a reason. Something happened in Rose’s life that made her change her mind.  

[ethereal, introspective music plays in the background] 

[00:19:52] Rose: When I was younger, when I first started my family, I lost two babies, and I have two children now, but I lost two babies, and I’ve always had that feeling of loss. 

[00:20:11] Jessica: And then about 15 years ago, one of Rose’s living daughters, now an adult, got into a terrible car accident. She had to be airlifted to the hospital in Calgary.  

[00:20:24] Liz: It was bad enough to where when they flew her to Calgary, they told us she might die in the air, okay. And Rose sat down, she smudged, prayed about it, and she decided, if you help me to save my daughter, then I’m ready. So, she made that vow.  

[melodic guitar music continues]

 [00:20:50] Jessica: Rose’s daughter survived.  

[00:20:54] Liz: So Rose made that vow. So, then we got ready, and she’s been doing that since then.  

[music continues and fades] 

[00:21:09] Rose: My mother, she prepared me, because she was still alive at the time I went in there. So, you know, it was kind of overwhelming, but I…[pauses] I don’t regret that.  

[00:21:27] Liz: There’s a reason that Rose is who she is, and she’s just this calming force. If somebody needs something, they call Rose. If it’s anything, it’s, “Well, call Rose.” She’s a grandmother, right? And to us, those are the most valuable people in the world, because our grandparents are keepers of the knowledge that we need, but they’re also the givers of love. So, [speaks emotionally] our baby is in the right hands.  

[00:21:59] Rose: When you’ve had your chance to take care of this bundle, and somebody else approaches you that they would like to be given that chance too, to take responsibility, to take care of the bundle, you pray about it, of course, hey? Because everything is prayer, everything is prayer. It’s just like giving up your child. It is. They’re not ours, just like the children, hey? They’re angels that were gifted to us to take care of, ‘til they can fly on their own. Then we let them go. The same thing with the bundles. They’ve been handed down, and we have the opportunity to take care of them. Eventually, we have to let them go. And once you’ve been given that opportunity to take care of one, and then you transfer it to somebody else, you can’t go back to the old way of life you had. It changes you that way.  

[we hear the sounds of cicadas] 

[00:23:35] Jessica: Throughout Blackfoot country, there are others like Rose and Liz who are holding sacred traditions close. This is Johnathon Red Gun. 

[00:23:45] Johnathon: I took care of [Blackfoot name], and when I was in [Blackfoot name], I looked after that bundle for nine years with my wife, and also with my partner. And who you see of me, my wife, it was because of how I took care of that bundle. I made sure I looked after it correctly, the way it was taught to me. I didn’t add anything to what was taught to me. I didn’t take anything out of what was taught to me. That’s how it, the essence, stays sacred. Because [Blackfoot word] is all about not only the relationships, but also the transfer—the knowledge. And that’s how it stays true all the same, the essence of it, eh.  

[00:24:37] Jessica: Johnathon Red Gun is a fluent Blackfoot speaker, and an elder. He’s a member of Siksika Nation. He lives in southern Alberta in Canada.  

[the sound of crickets and birds continues in the background] 

[00:24:47] Johnathon: [Speaks for a while in Blackfoot] 

It’s all about relationships. 

[Continues speaking for a while in  Blackfoot] 

The collective—we’re all Blackfoot people and we’re all the same.  

[Continues speaking in Blackfoot for a little longer] 

Our way of life is a collective—all Blackfoot people are one. And it’s a responsibility, [Speaks a phrase in Blackfoot], the ones that are in the grandfather stage of our ways, to pass on that knowledge on down.  

[the sound of wind and birds plays] 

[00:27:04] Tyson: We live in a society and a culture that’s still alive for 18,000 plus years. We’ve been here forever. 

[00:27:19]  Lona: [Speaks in Blackfoot] right here? [laughs]

[00:27:25] Tyson: [Introduction in the Blackfoot language] I’m Tyson Running Wolf, my Indian name is Wolf Plume. I grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation. State legislator. We run a construction company with my family, and I’m married to my wife, Lona Running Wolf. 

[00:27:53]  Lona: [laughs] I’m Lona Running Wolf. I’m Tyson’s wife and I work for University of Montana, Western, and my Indian name is [Blackfoot name], which means Gentle Rolling Thunder. And I’m just really proud of who I am, and my self-identity is rooted in being Niitsitapi. 

[00:28:16] Jessica: Tyson and Lona live on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, in the state of Montana, in the United States; and Tyson is an elected representative in the Montana State Legislature. At this time of year, the land around here is covered in snow. 

[we hear the sound of footsteps crunching on snow in the background]  

[00:28:33] Tyson: Since there’s snow on the ground, a lot of people will start telling all of the stories. You have to wait ‘til the snow is on the ground.  

[ethereal music begins to play in the background]

 [00:28:51]  Lona: Before colonialism, you can think of our culture as this beautiful stained glass window, and everything made sense to all of us. Everybody knew the stories, they knew the songs, they knew the names of the bundles, the purpose of the bundles, the purpose of each society, how we practiced together, how everything interacted together, how we governed, how we policed, how we educated. As Niitsitapi, we could all look at that stained glass window and it made sense to us. We knew every nuance that went into this beautiful piece of art. The problem is that we have gone through generations of historical trauma. The purpose of colonialism is to replace the systems, language, beliefs, everything; replace it with the dominant culture.  

[ethereal music continues] 

In 1928, 85% of all Native children were in boarding schools at that time. So, you think about 85% of our children were losing their self-identity at the time they were in these boarding schools. It was like that beautiful stained glass window was being shattered.  

[00:30:23] Tyson: I was a blank slate. I didn’t have an Indian name. I didn’t have no cultural knowledge. I just knew I was an Indian that lived on the Blackfeet Reservation. I was “dumb as dirt”, as they would say, about knowing being a Blackfoot person.  

I was at the University of Montana, and I was 25 or 26 years old. I was on my last semester of school, and I wasn’t going to be able to graduate ‘cause of one course, and it was really a tough course, and I was failing. So I walked up on top of Mount Sentinel. And I was almost there, and I was really suffering, and as I was walking up, there was this old guy. 

[we hear the sound of running footsteps on a dirt path in the background]

Must have been 75, 80; and he was catching me! And I was like, “What the heck?” Well anyway, I get up there and I beat him to the wind vane, and just as I get there, and I sit down, I’m just pouring sweat. He walks by me and he says, “Have a good day, hope you find what you’re looking for.” And he walked over the hill, just power walking! You know, I was sittin’ there, and I was like, “Old guy just plumb walked me in the dirt.”  

But I sat there for a long time, and the sun was just beating down on me. And this overwhelming feeling come over the top of me, saying, “I’m gonna to be able to make it.” But I looked at the sun, and I said, “Sun,” I said, “Help me get through this. Help me get through this and give me a gift, that I can graduate.” And I said, “I’ll make a pledge that I’ll go sit on a mountain and fast. Just get me through it. I’ll do that. I’ll help my people the best I can.”  

And I walked back down. Graduated. I start remembering that vow I made to the Creator, but not taking it too serious. And I start getting involved a little bit more. I had aunties and different other relatives that were joining into these sacred societies, and when I would go, it was just to help my auntie. And so, as it was going, I was like, “Holy smokes, there’s a whole ‘nother world of being a Blackfoot person that I didn’t even know about.” I says, “Holy smokes, I want to be involved in this thing. I want to know what this is about.”  

And as I was doing all of this stuff, I’d watch these different people that were just learning their way and come there, and they’d see a miracle happen for them. They’d get cured of cancer, or they would have broken bones, or they’d have a tumor, or they’d have something the matter with them; and they would want prayers from these bundles, our medicine people, to fix them and to help them. And I started becoming committed, because I was seeing the work that the sun and every other thing was attached to, was making the miracle happen. And I start seeing, these elders hold the force of the universe.  

[00:33:53] Tyson: And I’m like, there is a bigger world than what I’m doin’. And nobody’s preaching to tell me how to do it. I don’t have to read it out of a book. It’s happening! And so there’s this awakening happening inside of me, seeing the Horns, going to Medicine Pipe Ceremony, and then getting my Indian name, [Blackfoot name], Wolf Plume. Then I was like, “Holy smokes, there’s this whole other life of being a Blackfoot person.” Not just living on a reservation, getting a per capita check, and getting hunting rights. There’s a spiritual world that sits there, or a Blackfoot world, that a lot of our people were missing. And I was lucky. I felt I was really lucky.  

[melodic guitar music continues in the background] 

I went to this elder and I says, “Hey listen,” I said, “I don’t know too much,” I says, “But I made a pledge.” And he says, “You should maybe fulfill that vow.” He said, “Let me tell you a story about Brings Down the Sun.” I says, “Hey! Brings Down the Sun is my great, great, great grandfather.” And he says, “We know who he is, and that you’re related to him. Brings Down the Sun fasted. And he come back with some really powerful stuff.” I says, “Geez!” and then I just start, “Holy smokes, I got that DNA running through me.” And, he says, “It’s your choice, but,” this elder told me, “I can lead you to what you need to do, if that’s what you want.” “Oh, yeah!” And so, I took it all on. 

Little did I know that—you know, me and  Lona were together—that he was employing her too; that she had a real job that she had to do while I was gone, fasting, and they all worked as a team. And here I went up and did what I did, and I come back with some stuff that was given to me by Creator; you know, that’s a direction for the betterment of the people, what I made the pledge for. I fulfilled my vow, but then he reciprocated again, saying, “Alright, your job doesn’t end there. Now we get to add a little bit more work onto it. Do you take it on?” Oh, I’m sitting up here, what am I going to do? No? Yes? Yeah? “Yes, of course!” So then the commitment was frickin’—the deal was sealed. I was in!  

From that day on, after I come back, it was nothing but commitment. Building the common knowledge of being a Blackfoot man, working with my wife, because if I didn’t have her through the whole journey, then I would just not be able to do nothing.  

[the electric guitar crescendos and then fades] 

[00:37:15]  Lona: The beauty of our culture is, we get to walk our own road and the elders are there the whole time. And so mine is totally different. I was like 21, maybe. My stepdad who basically raised me, he joined the Horns in Canada. And so that was my first time ever going to the [Blackfoot name]. And so I started learning right away how all the ceremonies worked. And then at the same time, a medicine pipe bundle actually called out to my dad and asked to come home. And so he was searching for it. The elders found this bundle that had come to him in a dream. It was a medicine pipe bundle and it had been in the museum in Edmonton for a lot—a lot—of years. And so, they repatriated it out of the museum, and they transferred it to my mom and Bob the proper way, through a transferred ceremony. So then they took on that medicine bundle.  

So I was fortunate enough that from a young age I was immersed in the learning of all the protocols. It was like, about the only thing that helped me through so many of my life struggles, and when I met Tyson, he was strong in his path.  

[00:38:46] Jessica: On the United States side of Blackfoot territory, the traditions of holding a bundle and forming societies weren’t as active for years. People would have to go all the way up to Canada to access them. An elder in Canada asked Tyson to help restart the Horn Society in Browning, which he did, along with Lona’s support. 

[00:39:08] Tyson: Pete Standing Alone, they call him, “the buck stops here”. He made an announcement that the Horns would get started in Browning. And he named who the elders would be, and who would be stepping up to take it over, you know. And then that’s when me and Lona, we had a really deep, serious talk. This is a commitment, you know, it’s gonna be rough, but it ain’t for nothing except for your belief that our culture is the most powerful in the United States, or in the world.  

[00:39:42]  Lona: The sense of urgency really does come from the fact that the cycles of trauma, and the levels of generational trauma that is happening to our people, it’s so strong. A lot of us women that made the choice to join, it was because of that. Like, we knew that it was gonna be really difficult. But if we could access self-identity, and culture, and language, and positive coping mechanisms, we could start breaking some cycles. So we jumped in!  

And so we’re putting the pieces back together, and it’s taking a longer time than how long it took to shatter the stained glass window. And we all have to agree on what it looks like. And then there’s pieces missing that will never come back. So, that’s the work that is so important, why we’re so passionate about it, because we’re not going to be fully realized until we get that back together.  

[00:40:47] Tyson: I’m still a student, be a student for a long, long time. And then one day, somebody will come to me, and my wife, and a transition will happen.  

[00:41:03]  Lona: I know I’m not an elder yet. I want to be an elder, and I think all of us do, that get on this journey. We want to be able to give these lessons back to people that need it. And we can see, like, in our community that we have so many broken people with a shattered paradigm of who they are, and what their self-identity is, that I want to help them reconnect to who they are in their culture.  

[00:41:37] Tyson: There isn’t a limit of being able to be a Blackfoot person. And so a lot of my journey in my life was to give access points of knowing this Blackfoot way of life for people to go down that road if they want to.  

[introspective guitar music begins and plays in the background] 

[00:42:02] Jessica: Blackfoot peoples have always been here, but their culture still needs to be fought for. Tyson and Lona, and Liz and Rose, and Johnathon and Doane, and so many others, are doing everything they can to collectively find what they are looking for.  

[00:42:21] Liz: A lot of who we are as people is still being defined in this 21st century, because somehow we have to make the old work with the new, right? We have to figure out how we’re going to continue our stories and keep our stories going; but also, how we’re going to do that to a younger generation.  

[we hear bird sounds in the background] 

[00:] Johnathon: Our ways—I really believe our ways—is our salvation as Niitsitapi, as Siksikaitsitapi. I really believe that.  

[00:42:56] Doane: We’re pretty closely related to the stars, the moon, the sun; more closely than I think people remember.  

[00:43:08] Johnathon: [Speaks in the Blackfoot language]  

This land here that sustains us belongs to all of us. It doesn’t belong to one person or a group of people. It belongs to every single Blackfoot people. 

[00:43:35] Rose: And it’s a beautiful life. It’s a beautiful life.  

[00:43:40] Tyson: I’m telling you, I’ve climbed most of these mountains that are on the Rocky Mountain Front. I’ve been in some wicked cold temperatures, and life threatening situations. Nothing has been as hard as being a Blackfoot man and trying to revive our culture. I’ll fight for it, you know. And I’m not alone. I got strong elders. Nobody is backing down. And it’s going forward and we’re ready to share it with the rest of the world. Yeah. Fearless!  

[Seedcast theme music begins and plays in the background] 

[00:44:27] Jessica: Thank you for listening. And thank you to Tyson and Lona Running Wolf, Johnathon Red Gun, Rose Fox and Liz Fox, and Doane Crow Shoe for sharing your knowledge and stories. The Blackfoot Confederacy is a part of the Wayfinders Circle, a global network of Indigenous Peoples from around the world who work to strengthen self-determination and managing their lands and territories, and maintain the cultural and spiritual continuity through intergenerational transmissions. It’s a joint effort convened by the Pawanka Fund, World Union of Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners, and Nia Tero. Learn more by visiting  

This episode was produced and mixed by Jenny Asarnow, with story editing by Jacob Bearchum. Interviews by Bryan Cole. Additional production and editing by Nils Cowan, Bryan Cole, and Jacob Bearchum. They are a part of Nia Tero’s film team, and they are making a film with the Blackfoot Confederacy. Thanks to our colleagues at Nia Tero—Michael Painter, David Rothschild, Marianna Olinger, and Mariana Lopez—for their support on this episode.  

Nia Tero is a Seattle-based foundation. We’re both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples with a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship for all vital ecosystems. That means we provide support to Indigenous Peoples globally who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making Earth livable for generations to come. Here at Seedcast, our guests represent themselves. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Nia Tero. We honor their honest perspectives and lived experiences. You can learn more about Seedcast and about our work at Nia Tero at And Seedcast is on Instagram, so if you don’t follow us already, go check us out at @niatero_seedcast. And please subscribe to us on your favorite podcast platform to keep up with new episodes! 

Our executive producer is Tracy Rector. Senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Seedcast producers are Julie Keck, Stina Hamlin, Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker, and me, Jessica Ramirez. Fact-checker is Romin Lee Johnson. Social media is by Nancy Kelsey. Transcripts are by Sharon Arnold. Graphic design by Cindy Chischilly. The Seedcast theme song is “Rooted” by Mia Kami. I’m your host, Jessica Ramirez. We’ve got one more very special episode left this season—see you in a couple of weeks!  

Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami: Like the wind we still move, like the waves we rise high, like the sun we never die. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down. We’re here to stay…