The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened an exhibit Friday celebrating the history and culture of Montana’s Blackfeet Tribe.
Titled “We Are the Continuum of Creation,” the exhibit features stories and more than 30 objects highlighting important events and cultural practices, such as the tribe’s creation story, the introduction of the horse in the 1700s and the connection of the lodge, or tepee, to the environment.
An original copy of the 1855 Treaty of Lame Bull, on loan from the National Archives, also is on display. Instead of signatures, Blackfeet men, with names such as Mountain Chief, Low Horn, Little Gray Head and Little Dog, marked X’s next to their names.
The peace treaty did not cede any land to the U.S. government
But it did give the government a stronger foothold in northcentral Montana by allowing the construction of roads, telegraph lines and military posts in Blackfeet Country. Later treaties reduced the tribe’s land from 26 million acres to 1.5 million acres.
Jackie Parsons of Browning, a Blackfeet curator, said seeing the treaty filled her with sadness. Parsons and co-curator Carol Murray, also of Browning, traveled to Washington to attend the exhibit’s opening.
“It really makes me feel sad that people would treat other people like that,” said Parsons, chief judge of the Blackfeet Appellate Court. “It’s like they had no feelings or no conscience for what they were doing.”
One important lesson that museum patrons will learn from the exhibit is that, unlike many Indian tribes that were forcibly resettled by the government, Blackfeet still live where they originated thousands of years ago, the women said.
“A lot of our original land was taken from us … but we’re still in the main place where we’ve always been,” Parsons said.
“The main person who gave all of that to us is Napi (the Creator),” Murray said. “Napi gave us our world, and we hung on strong.”
The Blackfeet treaty will only be on display for six months to limit its exposure to light.
It then will be replaced with a replica. The Blackfeet exhibit will probably be on display for at least two years, Smithsonian curator Emil Her Many Horses said. It’s located on the fourth floor and is part of a larger exhibit called “Our Peoples: Giving Voices to Our Histories.”
This is the first time the museum is adding to its permanent collection since it opened in September 2004. The Blackfeet exhibit has been in the works since 2001, Her Many Horses said.
“Like any museum, we’re always coming up with new exhibit ideas,” he said.
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Faith Bremmer writes for the Great Falls Tribune, Washington Bureau.Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org