Writing on Stone Provincial Park by Irene Butler
This story is dedicated to Writing On Stone Women, the baby daughter of Bear, a full-blooded Blackfoot (Kyle is his Canadian name) who was our interpretive guide along the sacred paths of Writing On Stone Provincial Park, Alberta. The name was given her by elders at a special ceremony at the Writing On Stone site; the first to be given this name in this manner in 400 years.
Bear, hardly breathing, scoured the landscape; it would not be long now. He paid no heed to his hunger pangs or to his cramped muscles from crouching for many hours behind the pile of rocks with fresh tree branches stuck in the top. He looked up and down the long rows of cairns, on each side of “the drive” shaped like the flying formation of geese, with the narrow end toward the cliff. A man sat silent behind each cairn. He was now a man; he was proud to be among them. He had gone up to the sacred hills and fasted for eight days. On the last day a vision had come to him of a giant bear carrying him across the plains and protecting him from all manner of evils so horrible that he shook violently for hours when the vision ceased. The bear made himself known as his spirit guide forever. Upon descending the hillside, he took the sharp rock he had brought and carefully carved the head of the bear in the sandstone cliff and hastened back to camp to tell his father about his good fortune.
He admonished himself for his daydreaming. He must stay alert. What would his first hunt as a man bring? Were the ceremonies to the Creator acceptable, so the Creator would communicate to the buffalo spirits the needs of his people? He thought of the runners who had been sent out days ago, and the excitement when one came back to report the location and size of a herd. Chosen by the elders for their skill and daring, they would trick the animals into moving ever closer to the cliff. It was his dream to be so chosen one day. With great stealth, making sure the wind was right so the keen nose of the buffalo did not detect the human scent, one would covered himself with the hide of a young buffalo and mimic a call of distress so the herd of females and not fully grown males would move toward the sound. At times, another would dress in a wolf hide and slowly nudge in towards the fake calf, not so close as to cause panic, but just far enough to entice the concerned matriarch to move in the desired direction, followed by the herd. Patience was a virtue as the game was slow and all knowledge of the terrain and buffalo behaviour was brought into play to move the herd to the entrance of the rock piles.
Many tribes had gathered for the hunt as many hands were needed < the butchering, but the cool autumn air would help keep the meat from spoiling too quickly. His mother and the other women had been preparing for this day; rawhides lines tied to posts were in readiness for hanging the thin slices of meat in the sun to dry. Every hand, big and small, was needed to later pulverize the dried meat, to crack the bones to get out the nutritious marrow, and boil the bones to render the fat. Saskatoon berries and chokecherries were already dried to mix with the marrow, fat and powdered meat to form pemmican. The finished product was then packed into rawhide sacks and the air was pressed out which preserved the pemmican for the long winter months when deer, birds, or rabbits were not plentiful. Bones best for arrow heads had been put aside, along with horns to be made into drinking vessels and spoons, and the tanned hides to be fashioned into clothing. They would be carried to their winter lodgings to be worked on while the snow swirled. Very little of the sacred buffalo was left unused. But for a day they would celebrate and offer up prayers of gratitude to the Creator, and to the buffalo who had given so generously of themselves. By the time the braves descended from the top of the cliff, slabs of fresh meat were already cooking over the huge fires making his mouth water. The tongues were ready to give to the medicine men for their importance to the success of the hunt. The drums were being brought to the middle of the gathering. After a refreshing dip in the river, he hurried to the tent of his family to don his finest costume for the dance. He yearned to catch another glimpse of Writing On Stone Woman.