LIVING BY FAITH North, south, east, west
Let me take you back to the month of August 2017. In my first piece, I discussed my feelings as my family drove away and left me to my new path in Montana. During that month, I found my neighbors to be a little standoffish. Only a few would talk to me, and they only had tales of terror about my new home, Browning. One neighbor even went so far as to say that I am too white to teach in Browning, and I needed to be stern, strict, and hide all my feelings in the hopes that my students and their families would be OK with me.
Other than my daily walks with my pup and shopping for groceries, I spent the first three weeks in the apartment. My outlook on my move to Montana was low, very low. I was beginning to regret my decision daily, and at least once told my family that I just wanted to go home, meaning Pennsylvania. The only thing that stopped me was the contract that I had signed. I had made an agreement to work for the year, so I would.
It was during this time that I discovered how calming mint tea can be and how it could help me cope with the move, the lack of work and low supplies. I begin to make a large pot of mint tea (I could make about a gallon of tea with just one tea bag) which I then turned into iced tea after a few cups. At the end of the August, I had training for work. I used the iced tea to calm my nerves and settle my emotions. Perhaps it was a comfort because it was a taste of home. My mother always has mint growing in the spring through the fall, so I was always able to drink mint tea.
Anyway, back to the training. I sat with my new co-workers and tried to learn their names. They were friendly and nothing like what my neighbors said to expect, and that was something I would find often true as the weeks progressed. Even though my co-workers were nice, I still found myself wishing I was preparing for another year teaching in Pennsylvania. As much as I didn’t want to be a substitute teacher anymore, I was willing to do it just to be back where things made sense to me and felt more comfortable.
On Aug. 28, my students began classes. In my first article I said that I was hoping once I started to work with the children, this area would feel like home. Well, I found myself happier and more comfortable whenever my students were with me. When they were at lunch or a special class, I struggled with my emotions. When they were with me, I was smiling and happy. My class was the reason to get up in the morning. It was the reason that I was here. I still find that my class is able to bring out my joy.
One of the things that I have found that is different here than back in Pennsylvania is directions. Think about how you would explain which door to use at a school. At my last school, there was the main door (the one with the buzzer that led you to the office along the shortest path), the kindergarten door (the one in the kindergarten wing), the door by the cafeteria, the second grade door, and the upstairs door.
Now, compare that to the South Lobby doors and the North Lobby doors. There are other doors in my new school, but they are not named, at least not that I know of. Here, it seems that in order to know which door to use, you need to know the directions they face. Directions are very important to this culture, it seems.
To understand why, you need to look to the past. Traditionally, the lodge, what they call niitóyis, we would say tipi, was placed so that the door would face east, in the direction of the sunrise. If you know which direction east is, you would learn to give directions based on north, east, south and west. In the Blackfoot language, directions are Apatohsoohtsi, Pinaapoohtsi, Amsskaapohtsi and Amitoohtsi. I have begun to learn more about the lodges they traditionally created. To be clear, lodges are used for traditional events, such as Indian Days in July. Normally, my students live in houses like you do.
The lodge covering was made from buffalo skin. When the skins would tear, they were patched. When they were unable to be patched anymore, the woman would tell her husband they needed to replace the covering.
When they had gathered enough skins, always an even number normally between eight and 30 skins, and enough sinew, the woman would gather food and invite a group of women for a meal. They would come, eat and when asked, take the sinew home to pull it into thread. The next day, there would be a new meal with another group of women, and these ladies would take the hides and lay them out. The first group of ladies would return and they would work on sewing the skins together, forming the lodge covering. The covering would be completed that day.
It reminds me of the Amish doing a barn or house-raising. when the community comes together and the men work together to build a building. In the case of the Blackfoot, the home was created by needlework; a woman’s job. If the poles needed to be replaced, the men would prepare them. The point I am trying to make is, in both cultures, the community works together to get a house built.
In my next article, I will share more about the lodges. Until then, Nii tak ko to mat tsi no. (I will see you again.)