Lauren Monroe Jr (Blackfeet) speaking during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering on Blackfeet Territory Montana with Chief Mountain in the background. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Learn about the sacredness of the buffalo, language, and waters with the Blackfeet Nation.
In August of 2023, members of the Wayfinders Circle were hosted graciously by the Blackfoot Confederacy on Blackfeet territory in Montana, USA. The gathering was an opportunity for the exchange of traditional knowledge between Wayfinders Circle members, the World Union of Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners, Nia Tero, the Pawanka Fund, and the hosts – the Blackfoot Confederacy. The three-day event was attended by traditional elders and spiritual and cultural guides from the Blackfoot Confederacy, elders from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and the Gabbra People of northern Kenya, leaders of the Native American Land Conservancy from the southwest region of the United States, and leaders of the Saami People of Sweden.
The Wayfinders Circle supports and gathers Indigenous guardians from around the world who protect their lands, waters, and territories, to learn and share possible pathways for human societies to achieve ecological, social, cultural and spiritual harmony. It is a collaborative initiative and platform dedicated to unleashing the transformative potential of Indigenous lifeways, inspiring all people to re-imagine development, conservation and the way they relate to each other and to Mother Earth.
The Goals of the Gathering Included:
- Exchanging traditional knowledge among all participants.
- Sharing and learning about the culture of the peoples of the Blackfoot Confederacy, their ancestral Buffalo management practices, ceremonies and spirituality, strategies for intergenerational transmission of knowledge, language preservation, and the challenges they face.
- Discussing next steps and the future of the Wayfinders Circle.
The Cultural Exchange
The gathering began on Blackfeet territory near Glacier National Park with a warm welcome and ceremonial remarks, after which the group was transported to the base of the sacred Chief Mountain to continue discussions while enjoying breathtaking mountain vistas. The Blackfoot hosts generously shared insights into their cultural origins, and their diverse organizational structures, including the Confederation, the Tribal Council, as well as the various societies within their communities.
Smaller group discussions took place in traditional Tipis, fostering interactions among members of the Wayfinders Circle and encouraging dialogues between the youth and elders. The welcoming ambiance, complemented by a central fire, provided a unique setting for tackling critical topics, including language revitalization, the meaning of water, and other sacred knowledge with a sense of significance and depth.
A key aspect of the conversation centered around the cultural significance of the buffalo in Blackfoot culture, as well as the various projects related to repatriation and ecological management.
The buffalo, or “Innii,” in the Blackfoot language, hold immense cultural significance in Blackfoot culture and play a central role in the Blackfoot traditional way of life. The buffalo has not been just a source of material sustenance for the Blackfoot – they represent a profound cultural and spiritual connection to the land, ancestors, and the natural world.
Many Blackfoot communities have been actively involved in buffalo conservation and reintroduction projects to help restore the buffalo population to their ancestral lands.
The arrival of European settlers in the Blackfoot territory in the 1800s had devastating consequences, with one of the most tragic being the near extinction of the buffalo. Simultaneously, millions of Native People suffered violence, displacement, and forced assimilation. By the close of the 19th century, the once-thriving buffalo herds had dwindled to a mere 300 individuals remaining in the wild.
The Blackfeet Tribe, like many Indigenous nations, recognized the importance of restoring buffalo herds to their ancestral lands for cultural, ecological, and economic reasons. After more than 150 years, the “Innii”, or buffalo, have been released in their ancestral homeland, the tribal lands, to roam freely. In a significant step toward this restoration, a historic Buffalo Treaty was signed in 2014, representing an intertribal agreement dedicated to the revival of buffalo populations on Tribal/First Nations Reserves and co-managed lands across the United States and Canada. Each passing year sees additional tribes joining this collective effort, reinforcing the commitment to the revitalization of buffalo herds and the preservation of cultural heritage across Indigenous communities.
In the warm welcoming ambiance of the Tipis, the Blackfoot community generously shared with elders and Wayfinders Circle members a Pipe ceremony with profound significance. Each participant engaged in a deeply personal experience, sharing prayers of gratitude, healing, and connection in their respective languages and worldviews. Songs and reflections from cultures around the world were offered, fostering a sense of unity. Notably, a young Blackfoot representative took on the pivotal role of lighting the pipe, marking a significant moment of knowledge transmission and intergenerational connection between youth and elders.
The Pipe ceremony is a sacred act of prayer and communion. It is used to connect with the Creator, seeking guidance, blessings, and spiritual insight. The pipe is seen as a conduit for communication between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm. The act of sharing the pipe is symbolic of sharing one's thoughts and intentions with the Creator. The ceremony is conducted with strict protocols and rituals, emphasizing respect for the pipe, the participants, and the spiritual entities involved.
The Future of the Wayfinders Circle
All the Wayfinders Circle members in attendance unanimously agreed on the significance of fortifying the Wayfinders Circle and fostering networks of exchange and mutual support among themselves.
The gathering concluded with a joyful celebration of traditional Blackfoot dances, accompanied by the rhythmic beat of a ceremonial drum. Each dancer shared insights into their attire and the significance of their dances. To wrap up, all participants joined in a collective round of dances, fostering a sense of unity. The event culminated with closing remarks and the exchange of gifts, symbolizing the heartfelt connection forged during these days of cultural exchange.
Remarks from Participants of the Wayfinders Circle
Ali Gufu Ibrae from the Gabbra People, Kenya
The world is burning because of non-Indigenous peoples' activities. We need to reduce those activities and be inventive, to create something that is friendlier to the Earth. We Indigenous Peoples have never overexploited resources, we are very close to nature, to one another and even to the animals. We all should live in harmony so the world and nature can be at peace.
Elizabeth Paige, from the Native American Land Conservancy (NALC), United States
The message to the world is that Indigenous Peoples are their strongest allies in the fight against climate change. Not only that, but in our ways of being in harmony with the environment and learning from your area, wherever that is, that interconnectedness that is so important to us, as Indigenous Peoples, but that should be important to everyone else on Earth...
One of the main lessons that I've learned being here on Blackfeet Territory is that we are not alone, we are not alone in our struggle... Each time I am blessed to come to these meetings is the time when I feel most powerful and most renewed in my fight. I will go back home really inspired by those folks from the Blackfeet community.
Sultan Sarygulov, from the World Union of Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners, Kyrgyzstan
Our message as Wayfinders is a simple yet profound reminder that we are all children of Mother Earth and should embrace a way of life grounded in the laws of nature.
Wayfinders Circle can inspire others by prompting us to ask a fundamental question: "Who and what are we without our Mother Earth? Without her waters and resources? If we desire sustainable living and development, we must wholeheartedly adhere to the laws of Mother Nature. These laws are unchangeable and unalterable; we must simply revitalize a life rooted in the profound understanding that we, humans, are an indivisible, organic part of the single organism known as Planet Earth.
And one more lesson, one more message that we could share with others is to live in harmony with nature, always reconciling our current needs and the urgent need to leave the natural world for our descendants as our foregathers passed it on to us.
Anders-Erling Fjällås, from the Sámiid Riikkasearvi, Sweden
We have to remember that we are part of something greater than ourselves. The sustainable way of life is the only way forward. We know what happens when we are not living with this holistic view in mind.
From the last few days at the Blackfeet Territory what has struck me immediately is that, even though we are half a world apart, we have so much in common. Structures, ways of life and many other things. We haven't had any connection during historical times, but we still have come to the same conclusion. And this is something I believe that's really amazing to behold.
Tyson Running Wolf, from Blackfeet Eco Knowledge, United States
Our main message is to help local communities that are suffering from catastrophic events. We need to take Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and local communities' knowledge to overcome the difficulties that are happening out there in the world.
The gift of exchange of transfer of knowledge must be embraced, and we have to know how to manage that transfer of knowledge to transform us as people and the environment we live in.
Learn more about the Wayfinders Circle, click here.
Wayfinders Circle Gathering attendees round dancing in Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Eugene Edwards (Blackfeet) Grass Dancing during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering on Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Rae Dean Miller (Blackfeet/Chippewa) Fancy Shawl Dancing during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering in Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Jusine Scabby Robe (Blackfeet) Jingle Dress Dancing during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering on Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Wayfinders Circle Gathering attendees hunting for Buffalo Stone in the prairie on Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Marie Weasel and Talsyn Pace (Blackfeet) searching for Buffalo Stone in the prairie during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering in Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Anders-Erling Fjällås (Sami Riikkasearvi) wearing traditional Sami clothing, holding a buffalo stone in Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Ali Gufu Ibrae (Gabbra), Donald Fish, and Molu Kulu Galgallo (Gabbra) posing for a photo during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering on Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Altantsetseg Tsedendamba & Oyunbaatar Tseren sitting on the prairie during Buffalo Stone Hunt in Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Rose Fox (Blood Tribe) and Martha Day Chief (Blood Tribe) searching for buffalo stone in Blackfeet Territory, Montana. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).
Lauren Monroe Jr. (Blackfeet) speaking during the Wayfinders Circle Gathering on Blackfeet Territory, Montana with Chief Mountain (Ninaiistako) in the background. Photo by Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Tsalagi).