Everyone wondered if the weather would cooperate, but right after Memorial Day folks and volunteers began showing up at the Buffalo Calf Winter Camp to set up learning stations, an event tent and more. Thanks to a collaboration of many folks, groups and entities that all worked together to present the first annual Iinnii Days celebration, it was a great success.
The event was presented in partnership with the Blackfeet Community College (BCC) Native Science Field Center, Browning High School Science, Montana Historical Society, Blackfeet Environmental Climate Change, Oakland Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, Blackfeet Elders, Cuts Wood School, Heart Butte School, Ksik Staki Project, Native Connections, The Nature Conservancy, Manpower, Blackfeet Fire Cache, Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife, Chief Mountain Hot Shots and the Pikuni Land Crew.
While the site was being prepared, Mike Bruised Head and Peter Weasel Moccasin held a pipe ceremony to start things in a good way, and teaching began in the lodges. The setup was organized by Leo Bird, the Pikuni Land Crew, Chief Mountain Hot Shots, Manpower, the Horn Society and the Brave Dog Society, and folks from Cuts Wood School offered instruction in traditional games.
The buffalo harvest was the highlight of the day, with younger folks dressing in buffalo robes and filling their traditional roles. A witness said he truly appreciated organizers including folks who are not from Blackfeet Country in the event, exposing them to the traditional practice of harvesting and processing buffalo. Organizers estimated around 500 people attended that first day.
Events continued on Tuesday, featuring a traditional foods supper and into the evening, Leo Bird told “Star Stories,” relating the Blackfeet people’s knowledge of the stars and astronomy.
Keith Aune, Wildlife Conservation Service bison coordinator, signed copies of his book, Theodore Roosevelt & Bison Restoration on the Great Plains, on Wednesday. In his work with WCS he said the intent is to “help build the social and scientific foundations for the ecological restoration of bison,” and, “restore bison ecologically, not just animals in pens but actual functioning animals in the larger landscape.”
A traditional buffalo lunch was featured that day, followed by a community meeting with prayer and Iinnii elders telling stories involving bison and Blackfeet.
That evening followed with showings of the movies “Bring Them Home” and “Iniskim” by Daniel Glick.
The remainder of the event included art and informational booths all day Wednesday and Thursday. Horses figured prominently in the celebration, with riding clinics coinciding with trips to visit the buffalo herd. Campfires in the evening were filled with Napi stories.
While it was the first such event of its kind in Blackfeet Country, it will certainly not be the last as folks are already looking forward to a bigger and better event next year.