Tracing Five Generations of a Blackfoot Family
by Hugh Welch
Awa chopsi pono Ka me ta (Horse Crazy)
I have heard and believe it to be true, that the Indian (Native American) has been the most studied and least understood of any ethnic group in the Americas. With my Indian upbringing on the Reservation and my education off the reservation I have straddled two opposing cultures, therefore I am a “Marginal Man”, so to speak. There has been “studies” of the degree of acculturation or assimilation to be able to label Indians:
Urban, Traditional …. etc.
This is a chronological document, spanning aproximately 150 years and five generations of my family. From the sighting of the first Steam Boat coming up to Ft. Benton, by a little Indian girl, to the present age of Computers.
Circa 1850: Montana Territory
Indians were free to roam at will and had their hunting grounds. They were protected from other Indian Tribes infringement. The Blackfoot controlled most of Northcentral Montana and with the other two bands of Sitsika (Blood and North Piegan). Their land extended from the Yellowstone on the South, to North of the “Old Man River” in Canada, and from East of the Rocky Mountains to the Sweetgrass Hills on the East. There weren’t any non-Indian settlements in the entire area. Few white men were seen in the area. Most of the trading was done with Canadian Companies.
Blackfoot Reservation: ca. the 1900’s
Reservations were allotted with each enrolled member recieving 400 acres and with the balance of the aproximately million and half acres retained by the Tribe. The Reservation bounderies were:
Birch Creek on the South, Canadian Line on the North, Glacier National Park on the West, and Cut Bank Creek on the East.
Church Schools were established by the Methodist and Catholic Churches on land given to them by the Federal Government under the treaty agreements to provide Health, Education and Welfare to the Blackfoot for the land they ceeded to the Government (millions of acres). Indian Police were sent out to bring in all Indian children of school age to place them in Church Boarding Schools or to be sent off Reservation to Government Schools. The parents had little say where their children went or how long they stayed. In all of the schools the Indian Culture was surpressed to the point where children were beaten if they spoke their own language or practiced any Indian Cultural Customs.
Kip a ta ki (Old Woman)
Great-grandma: ca. 1850-1950
Grandma (Caroline Connoyer) was born into this freedom of the “Nomadic Hunters”, her father being a French Canadian Trapper Trader (Vorager), and a sister of Mountain Chief, (Black Bear Woman) the considered Chief of the Pikuni (South Piegan of the Sitsika or Blackfoot) Band. According to Grandma her earliest recollections was traveling to the Mountains in a travois and horseback for the Summer Sun Dance, as a “little girl” and living in a Teepee. She didn’t live in a “House” until she was with her Mother in Shonkin at the Cobell Ranch. Later, as a “big girl” she went to Ft. Benton to help the Factors wife take care of her home. She had only seen a few white men before going to Ft. Benton and was afraid of them. From the stories she had heard about them:
shoot anything that moved whether they could use it or not,
take little of what they killed and leave the rest to “rot”.
They would probably kill and eat Indian kids if found, therefore, white men were the “Boogiemen”, used to scare the Indian children and to be avoided at all costs. She was terrified of white men but liked the Factors wife. She kept to herself while at the fort. My grandmother learned English and French from the Factor’s wife and was used frequently as an interpreter for the Factor and Blackfoot. She aquired trade goods for this service as well as what she earned from the Factors wife.
With these trade goods, plus the money she was able to trade for, she was able to buy horses from her Tribe, with the help of Butch Henkel who also bought at the fort. This made her a holder of property and regarded as “well off” by many, which caused jealousy and hardships for her. By the time she and Butch were married they had horses and cattle. They were in good economic numbers and planned on “Homesteading”, but the Blackfoot had been “subdued” and put on a reservation in Northern Montana. This was where Grandma longed to go (before the Indians were allotted their “Homesteads” on the Reservation). This happened around 1879. They settled in the St.Marys Valley between Swift Current and the St.Mary’s Rivers. Eventually they received their allotted land, raising their family, and where her decendents still remain today.
My Mother: 1909-1991
My Mother was born in Helena, Montana ca. 1908-10. She was enrolled as Blackfoot and was given allotted land in Babb and Cut Bank area. Mom grew up in Babb, attended Kalispell and Browning schools. She graduated from Kalispell High School in circa 1928, then married Howard Welch, a cowboy from New Mexico, ca. 1929. They had two children: Wanda Joy born in Cardston, Alberta, Canada Oct. 2, 1939, and Huey Eugene, born in IHS Hospital in Browning Montana May 6, 1935. Both were enrolled Blackfoot, but not elgible for Allotment land.
Huey Eugene Welch (Me): May 6, 1935 – present
My Indian name is Awa chopsi pono Ka me ta (Horse Crazy – really Crazy After Horses, as I am fond of horses) not Crazy Horse. If literally translated, it would come out as Crazy Horse (the famous Sioux warrior) as Awa chop si means Crazy (Loco) and Pono Ka me ta, means:
Elk Dog: the Blackfoot name for horse.
I attended grade school at Babb and other schools all over the Blackfoot Reservation. My mother became a country school teacher in 1944 and taught in one room, 1st-8th grade rural schools that her provisional teaching certificate was valid for. Openings existed until 1959 when she recieved her bachelor degree and became Glacier County Superintendent of Schools from 1960-76. She became Glacier County Senior Center Director in 1976, a position she held until her death on August 19,1991, at the Blackfoot Nursing Home.
I graduated from Browning High School in May 1953 and was married on August 22, 1953. I have 4 daughters: Sheri Lee Dec. 6, 1953, Roberta Joy Jan. 22, 1955, Mary Lynn May 13, 1956, and Lora Sue Jan. 15, 1963. Today I have 7 grandchildren, starting with Misty Hall, Nov. 18, 1973 to DJ Kiltz April 19, 1987. Five generations from horseback to jetliners, Free Plains Indians to Reservation and Urban Indians.
I was raised, from two years to aproximately 9 years old, by my great-grandmother, until attending reservation rural schools with my mother through 8th grade. During this time I was told stories in the Blackfoot language and English by her and my Great Uncle Willie, who was blind. Apparently I could understand and speak Blackfoot until I started school and was admonished to not speak it. My Great Uncle Willie was blinded by a whipping given him by Methodist Brothers for speaking the Blackfoot language on the Boarding School playground. While attending their school he didn’t want me to come to harm for using our language.
I had to go to College to find out who I was: Culterally-deprived, Economically-depressed, unstable … and co-dependent, along with other labels in fashion at the time. I felt I had a good childhood and upbringing; loving, but permissive Grandparents, strict disiplinarian, but self-sufficient parents, and an adequate education, both formally and with good work ethics I had learned.
My conflicts came at an early age:
get all you can as long as you can from whoever you can,
and control nature as much as you can.
WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) dominant culture teachings versus live with and respect nature, respect your elders, help extended family all you can and be genereous (Traditional Indian).
Starting school I was expected to give an answer immediately after being asked a question; whereas I was taught to give the question respect by thinking about it before answering. Also it was bad manners to answer a question asked of another, so as to not embarras them. In Public School it was expected of everyboby if they knew the answer, to raise their hands immediately. This meant to be called upon as soon as the person questioned faultered or couldn’t give the answer immediately (many non-Indian Teachers took this delay of answering to indicate stoicism or that they were slow learners).
Another conflict was:
the Indian way was to take what you need and leave some for others versus get all you can, and what you can’t use, store it. This is the difference between long and short-term planning, as I have been told by educators who have studied Indian Cultures.
Another concept I was expected to adopt was:
believe one-half of what you see and nothing you hear.
Indian cultures rely on verbal stories to pass down the history. Lying was “bad medicine” which invoked bad spirits and bad luck, therefore what you heard was to be believed! The dominant culture required it written or contracts were not binding.
Being of light complexion and attending Indian schools, plus Mother being a teacher, I was white in the Indian community and Indian in the white community. I was later accepted as Indian in the Indian Communities and White in the off-Reservation Communities or “Urban Indian” and semi-acculturated! I found if you had a needed skill or talent desired by both cultures, it was easier to “fit in” either culture.
Another conflict I encountered was pity and helping others:
this means not having as much as you do
“business is business” and get the best deal as cheap as you can, no matter who it is!
Growing up in these environments I developed the “Marginal Man”, one foot in each culture and able to function in each, as many “Breeds” are able to do.
I was informed by many non-Indian Educators of the many Cultural Characteristics of the Indian Cultures:
from the extremes of “Blood Thirsty Savage” to “Noble Redman”, depending on their biases. Most felt the Indian needed “Saving” in some way or another, usually to the “Saviors” advantage. Most Indians can survive in the non-Indian Society but few non-Indians could survive in the Indian Culture, without radically changing their lifestyles and thinking.