Humans often set the sacred in opposition to the profane and mundane. In what we might consider of as less sophisticated or mystical traditions, the distinctions are less in evidence. The sacred and profane blend together and are readily experienced in the traditions and daily lives of people. Sophisticated has to do with wisdom (sophia, so who am I to judge what is wisdom in a world I am an outsider to? This stands out to me when I visit Indigenous sites in Alberta and beyond. In ways they are stewards of Nature in ways I cannot be as I do not understand my relationship to Nature in a proper way.
On our way to Waterton, we went to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Archaeologists discovered evidence the site was on a migratory path for indigenous people, primarily the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), who used innovative ways to hunt plains bison at least 5500 years ago. A jump or ‘pishkun’ in Niitsítapi used drive lanes marked by rock cairns. The buffalo ran between the cairns and the last part of the drive lane sloped up, making the jump unnoticeable. The process required perfect human timing and was extremely dangerous.
Legend has it the name comes from an unfortunate incident when a young man wanted a closer view of the action. He waited at the base of the cliff. The hunt was successful and, when he was found, he sustained a broken skull and died.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is at the confluence of three geological formations. The Rocky Mountains and Great Plains are well-known. The picture below shows the rise into the Porcupine Hills. Young Niitsítapi men transitioned to manhood through a vision quest and went to the hill in the foreground. The hill, with spiritual meaning to the Niitsítapi, does not have public access.
Enter spiritual space
Questing for adulthood.
At Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump’s interpreprative centre, we watched traditional dancing and heard traditional drumming and singing. The drum symbolizes Mother Earth’s heartbeat in Niitsítapi and other indigenous traditions.
Beating hearts gather
Singing, dancing, encircling
Joining as one with Her.
I took this picture as we turned towards Waterton. It was a hot, hazy day, blocking a view of the mountains.
The Niitsítapi meaning ‘original people,’ had their tradtional homes here. The Piikáni (North Piegan), a member of the confederacy, traveled to Waterton’s Blakiston Valley and gathered at Akaitapi (good campsite), providing food, water, and shelter. The area was also used by the Ktunaxa (Kootenay or Kootenai) who traveled from the west, through what is now the Crowsnest Pass.
hot, hazy beauty
shimmering above prairies
block distant bastions.
A small herd of bison live in a paddock at Waterton. At one time bison covered the Great Plains of North America. This was literal. People heard them long before they came into view and, when they were visible, it was a mass of brown and black that covered the prairies. Indigenous people used this animals as a ‘walking supermarket’ as almost all its body parts were harvested and usable.
Proud people’s icon
Plains symbol of abundance
Today’s sad sideshow.
We have attended a number of concerts with John Wort Hannam performing. He is from the part of Alberta I highlighted and has a beautiful song about the hills around the area. Enjoy.
In my journeys in the western part of the United States, I visited a buffalo jump in South Dakota and heard some of this history of the great buffalo hunters and their ability to use every part of the buffalo in a practical way. And we think times are hard!
When you live on the land, you make due with what the land gives you and are grateful for it. I think in terms of my family moving into Western Canada just over a 100 years ago and homesteading, often living next to Indigenous communities. They found ways to co-exist even in hard times.
This post has a lot to take in. I agree that the sacred and profane do not have to be separate; are not separate in my world, anyway. 🙏
I tried to remember who wrote about this. It seems to me it was a mystic. It would have definitely run against the grain of the early church, which operated on the two being separate and arranged hierarchically, with sacred/divine above. The soul takes precedent over the body.
Yes. I did two semesters on ancient cultures/women’s studies back at Vermont College. Susan Griffin’s ‘A Chorus of Stons’ strikes a chord in memory. Matriarchal cultures were far more inclusive. And the patriarchy came in like a tidal wave to subsume earth-based cultures. Now we have an opportunity to swing back the other way and find some balance. I hope it happens; I hope I see it in my lifetime.
Thank you Bela. I will have to look for that. Matriarchy has a different feel as we are finding with the leadership in New Zealand with their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Indeed. By the way Ivon, thanks so much for reading some of my older posts. Don’t know how to convey my appreciation privately, so you can delete this if you want. 😉 All the best.
I enjoy your posts, poetry, and photography. There is some overlap with mine, so I track down the ones I have not read. I think I am close to the end.
Thank you! 🙏
Thank you for this post Ivan. I think many of the indigenous tribes understood themselves to be “the fist people’ or “the original people.” The Anishenaabe of the north woods in Minnesota are such and I think I recently came across an Inuit name that meant something like that. Lives, lived in harmony, with a sense of Oneness with All, gives those who are fortunate to be rooted to a geographical place for thousands of years an innate knowledge of place on this earth and beyond. Unfortunately, there are not many tribes left who are blessed with that legacy.
You are welcome Alia. Quite often, the world we experience more intimately provides numerous words to describe a phenomenon. For example, the Inuit have many words for snow, depending on the quality of it. Wendell Berry says we feel a sense of belonging when we are rooted in a particular place and with the traditions that emerge.
nitsiniiyi’taki…. from North Carolina.
You are welcome Allen from Alberta.
Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
WE AMERICANS TRY TO SEPARATE THE SACRED AND SECULAR—WHICH I THINK IS A MISTAKE !
It is. Our ancestors understood the world differently.
They did…and some do today…but not many in our Western culture!
We did, but they are quite old (Druids) and Indigenous. Also, many old-style farmers have a different relationship with the land and environment. My mother-in-law could tell what kind of winter we would have based on the change of colour of animals. She was pretty accurate.
i’M NOT SURPRISED.
SIMILAR LESSON AS IN THE JIM HENSON MOVIE….THE DARK CRYSTAL.
Just last fall I visited a nature preserve outside of Denver, Colorado. The highlight for me was the Buffalo. If you look at my blog posts from back in October, you’ll see my visit to the preserve with several good buffalo shots. They are magnificent animals.