Tag Archives: Indigenous cultures

Rolling with the Blackfoot

There is a place in the Blackfoot lands of Alberta called Writing-on-Stone, where the stories of their ancestors are carved into the sandstone walls along the banks of the Milk River. For a tribe whose lands stretched across the great plains of North America, Writing-on-Stone is as sacred as Mecca or Jerusalem, a place where the spirit world and that of mankind touch.

There are countless petroglyphs and pictographs, each telling a different story from a way of life now long gone. It shows the Blackfoot camped out on the river banks, where they would spend the winter while following the buffalo. It tells of the world’s creation, of hunts, of battles, and of the arrival of Europeans. It is said that once the carvings disappear from erosion, their story is done being told.

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“The Blackfoot lived in harmony with the land,” explained Desiree Yellowhorn, a Blackfoot guide at the park. Next to a carving of a woman harvesting meat, she points out where the first Royal Mounted Police carved their names into the sacred wall. “Our ancestors took what they needed from nature, nothing more. They used every piece of the buffalo, from their bones to the coat.”

In the summers, the Blackfoot would gradually guide the bison to large, flat plateaus surrounded by steep cliffs. These places, called “buffalo jumps,” were a secret to the Blackfoot’s survival. After craftily planting branches to creating a funnel towards the cliffs edge, young hunters would spook the rear of the herd, causing a stampede towards the abyss. Once the buffalo ran off the cliff, the women of the tribe would deliver the death knell with a club before harvesting every piece of the buffalo.

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One good hunt would get each tribe through the winter. The pelts were used for warmth, the bones for tools, and the meat was dried and mixed with Saskatoon berries to make an energy-rich meal called Pemmican.

The story of what happened next is the same story of practically every First Nations culture in North America. The white man came, bringing along diseases to which they had no immunity, weapons they could not match, and a worldview that clashed directly with that of the Blackfoot.

Eventually, settlers had hunted the buffalo to near extinction – taking their hides and leaving their flesh to rot, shooting them for sport from the side of trains, or simply slaughtering them to render impossible the traditional way of life on the plains.

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Today, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its contribution to world culture. It is, of course, no longer used. Most Blackfoot live on nearby reservations and no longer live off the land as they once did. The area behind the buffalo jump was long ago parceled into ranches.

During our visit, we were lucky enough to meet with Treffery Deerfoot, a spiritual leader of the Blackfoot community. He traveled to Head-Smashed-In with three generations of his family to give us a demonstration of traditional Blackfoot dances. Everyone, from Treffery to his grandchildren, were decked out in beautiful regalia, singing in their language, dancing the same song as their ancestors did long ago.

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Such a display is no longer an everyday thing. Travelers who come expecting to find Blackfoot walking the streets in buffalo hides are looking for the past. One of the last carvings at Writing-on-Stone was made by Chief Bird Rattler – a picture of the Model T that carried him to the park.

Today, the Blackfoot are a modern people dealing with the challenges of maintaining traditions in the twenty first century. Chief among them is the survival of the language. Almost all Blackfoot speakers are in Canada, but many youngsters are not interested in learning the language.

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Treffery Deerfoot has hope in his grandchildren, to whom he is passing on tradition in the form of songs and dances. And, as long as they are still etched on the wall, the story of the Blackfoot lives on in the Writing on the Stone.

Finding my Pepeha in New Zealand

The ceremony was supposed to be a homecoming, but I felt oddly foreign. Alex and I took our places atop Mt. Eden in Auckland, New Zealand, an extinct volcano the indigenous Maori consider tapu, or sacred and untouchable. Across from us stood Tracey and Tom, descendants of the Maori chiefs who founded the city.

Kia ora,” began Tracey, “We will now formally welcome you home to New Zealand according to formal Maori protocol.”

Our father is from New Zealand and we are full citizens. We’ve always considered New Zealand to be our distant homeland, but I’ve never lived there and never felt very Kiwi. Neither are we Maori. We are descendants of Pākehā, or European New Zealanders, and I was acutely aware that we now stood on land historically belonging to Tracey’s tribe.

“First,” he continued, “we will acknowledge the creator. Then we will bless you – our visitors – acknowledge your ancestors, and introduce them to our ancestors, who walk alongside us at all times.”

According to custom, strangers cannot enter tribal land without blessings, formal introductions, statements of intent and asking permission in the form of a song and a poem. It is a tradition originating from when New Zealand was divided amongst hundreds of warring tribes and travelers could not casually walk across the country without risking trouble.

These days, such a formal host/visitor relationship is an increasingly antiquated concept in our globalized world of vanishing borders. But to me it represented a chance to formally reconnect with my kiwi ancestry, a chance to be welcomed not just into this particular place, but into the other half of my heritage.

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North Island NZ: The Grand Kiwi Finale!

For the final episode of BBBTV we explore the North Island of New Zealand: sailing an America’s Cup yacht in Auckland, learning about the natural and cultural origins of New Zealand in Rotorua, and sipping craft beer on the vibrant streets of Wellington.  Sweet as, mate.

My Destination North Island: My Destination Wellington, My Destination Auckland, My Destination Rotorua.

Wellington: Megisti Sailing, Museum Hotel, Weta Cave, Zealandia, Wellington Cable Car, and Brady Dyer Photography.
Rotorua: Four Canoes Hostel, Tamaki Maori Village, Wai-O-Tapu, Polynesian Spa, and Hobbiton.
Auckland: SkyJump, Explore Group (America’s Cup Racing), and Tamaki Hikoi (Maori Cultural Guides),

And, as always, credit for the final rap goes to our buddy, Stevie B of Higher Minds.

North Island NZ: Behind the Scenes (Episode 23)

In the final episode of BBBTV we reconnect with our father’s home country – New Zealand – where we race America’s Cup yachts, learn about Maori culture, and explore the real-life Shire!  Tune in for a recap of the last six months, some final thoughts and a big announcement.

My Destination North Island: My Destination Wellington, My Destination Auckland, My Destination Rotorua.
Wellington: Megisti Sailing, Museum Hotel, Weta Cave, Zealandia, Wellington Cable Car, and Brady Dyer Photography.
Rotorua: Four Canoes Hostel, Tamaki Maori Village, Wai-O-Tapu, Polynesian Spa, and Hobbiton.
Auckland: SkyJump, Explore Group (America’s Cup Racing), Tamaki Hikoi (Maori Cultural Guides),
And, as always, credit for the final rap goes to our buddy, Stevie B of Higher Minds.

Tanzania: Behind the Scenes (Week 14)

BBBTV Week 14: Tanzania

This week we go on safari with Nomad Tanzania in the Serengeti, rolling past elephants, rhinos and lions like David Attenborough before meeting up with the great nomadic pastoralists of Africa, the Maasai. Not only are they super friendly, they also teach us some funky new dance moves.

For more information about how you can help the rhinos of Tanzania, check out SaveTheRhino.org.  Beats by Joomanji, end song “Jambo Bwana” performed by Babu of Nomad Tanzania

A special thank you to everyone that made this Tanzanian dream come true: My Destination Tanzania, Nomad Tanzania, Rivertrees Country Inn, Arusha Coffee Lodge, Macheweo Wellness Center, Onsea House, Shanga Riverhouse, The Tanzanite Experience

Kazakhstan: Life in the Land of the Free

BBBTV Week 11: Kazakhstan

Our travels take us to Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia.  We make the case for why the world’s 9th largest country should be on your bucket list: from sampling gnarly local cuisine to hanging out with nomads or trekking glaciers in the backcountry.  Come with us to the frontier for adventure travel.

Big thanks to: My Destination KazakhstanKazakhstan HotelVelo-TourAlmaty City TourSunkar Falcon FarmShymbulak Ski ResortRestaurant of Kazakh cuisine Gakku, and The State Museum of National Musical Instruments.

Ecuador: Behind the Scenes (Episode 5)

BBBTV Week 5: Ecuador
Bucket List Items: Uncover the colorful world of Quito culture, become cowboys and step into a bullfighting ring!

Mad props to Stevie B for the weekly rap y muchismas gracias to these guys for making our Ecuadorian excursion amazing: My Destination Ecuador, Unique Destination Ecuador, Surtrek, Tren Ecuador, Hacienda Zuleta, Yan and the team at Project Condor Huasi, Hacienda el Porvenir, Hacienda Hato Verde, Hacienda Chorlaví, Hotel Finlandia, Hotel Patio Andaluz, Quito Turismo, Restaurante El Ventanal, Restaurante Hotel Plaza Grande, Restaurante Cinco Sentidos, and Quito Tour Bus