A tribe divided by international boundaries was a major theme of the latest Blackfoot Confederacy meeting, held in Great Falls near the end of last month, June 25-27. The Bloods, Northern Piegan and Siksika bands of Canada joined the Southern Piegan Tribe of Montana for the second annual meeting of the bands of the Blackfeet.

The effect of the border that now separates the Tribe is clearly illustrated by the fact that the entire group has only met twice since the summer of 1995 when riders on horseback came south from Canada to initiate the idea of rejoining for the mutual benefit of the Tribe. At that and last year's Confederacy meeting, the groups focused on finding ways to overcome the international separation of parts of the Blackfoot Nation. Leaders of all the bands expressed the hope that the ideas and abilities of the different bands can be pooled together for the mutual benefit of the entire tribe.

The point was underscored in this year's meeting by the inability of Blood Chief Chris Shade to bring his eagle-feather headdress into the United States, even though the ceremonial warbonnet was fully certified as legal in Canada. Officials explained the two countries have different rules that make simple things like taking religious objects from Canada to the US impossible because the two larger countries can't agree on a system that would allow it, even if the regulations are closely followed by parties on both sides.

It's this kind of bureaucratic interference at the border that plagues many tribes across the United States, more than 60 tribes in all along the Canadian boundary alone, according to Susan Webber.

Besides border issues, the bands of the Blackfeet celebrated their shared heritage and strengthened their cultural bonds through ceremony and song during the three-day conference. Some of the most important issues raised concerned employment, housing and developing local economies.

In all, the four bands include about 35,000 members, a strong voice if united, noted councilman Darrell "Gordo" Horn.

While the Blackfeet of Montana hosted this year's conference, next year the Bloods will host the confederacy meeting, most likely in Lethbridge, Alta.

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