The sun was bright, but the wind was cold as folks began gathering on the lawn in front of the Museum of the Plains Indian where a pair of monuments stand commemorating people lost in the Flood of 1964 and those lost in a vehicular accident in 1976. Ground Shakin’ Music provided the sound system, and Chief Earl Old Person assumed emcee duties for the event.
The Blackfeet Warrior Society brought in the colors, struggling against the growing wind, and the Rawhide Singers offered an Honor Song and the Flag Song. Blackfeet Chairman Tim Davis welcomed all those in attendance, and he was followed by BTBC members Stacey Gilham Keller and Rodney “Minnow” Gervais, each presenting their own memories of the flood which so impacted life in Blackfeet Country.
In relating the history of the flood, Old Person noted not only the nature and size of the disaster that befell the Blackfeet people, but also how they responded by pulling together to bring things back to a state of normalcy. He noted that federal efforts to rebuild what was lost resulted in changes in settlement patterns that affect the Tribe to this day. While most people lived in river and creek bottoms before the flood, the new homes, called “flood homes,” were built in what had been sparsely populated towns like Browning and Heart Butte, beginning the pattern of more urban living seen today.
Many other people spoke, relating their memories and stories told to them by their elder relatives. Emerald “Beep” Grant, among others, noted how little those who endured the flood wished to speak about it. He said he’d wondered why his grandfather held onto a 1958 pickup that didn’t run until he learned it was the vehicle in which his grandmother had perished. Rescuers had little to work with as they tried to fling a tire to her on a length of barbed wire, but nothing worked and they watched as the flood waters engulfed the truck.
Gloria Bear also spoke about the accident in 1976 that claimed eight people whose vehicle turned upside down in a roadside pond. She thanked Earl Old Person for always remembering the event and honoring them at the annual memorial.
While the weather was less than ideal, folks reminded each other how much worse it was for the people watching the waters rise in 1964, and how the Blackfeet people can come together for the good of all in difficult situations.