My grandfather’s vision: A white bull buffalo stampedes down the guide path leading to a buffalo pound. Only the bull is visible, but the air is filled with the thunder of a vast herd and the joyous whoops of unseen hunters. At the end of its run, the bull charges up the entry ramp and tumbles into the trap. The din of the invisible herd evaporates. A thin cloud of dust flees on the wind. Motionless in the centre of the pound, the bull transmutes into a featureless, oblong stone. First dull red and then blinding white, the stone glows. Wings blossom from the stone. It ascends into a darkening sky.
When Granddad confided his vision to me, it was always in Blackfoot with a sense of urgency. He finished each telling with an insistent demand--“You must remember.” On his death bed, he refused to die until I, then his twenty-year-old grandson, arrived. With his last words whispered into my ear, he again told me not to forget, “Miinátt sawatskino sit.”
Contained in my grazing lease is a kame the Blackfoot call Onoka-Katzi. Crowning the kame is Sundial Medicine Wheel. The central cairn of the wheel, a pile of rocks the height of a man and four arm spans in diameter, is visible from my ranch house two miles away, a prominence silhouetted against the sky. Surrounding the cairn are two concentric circles. Two parallel lines of rock break the circles to form a pathway opening to the south.
It was late afternoon, the day after my thirtieth birthday. Before going home ahead of the approaching night, I decided to check the fence around the kame for any needed repairs -- this being the fence I had erected a few years earlier to keep my cattle out of the medicine wheel. As usual, the fence was festooned with prayer ribbons. Deposited around the gate, were small red pouches, offerings of tobacco. On the hilltop protected by my fence, I knew the central cairn would display prayer sticks adorned with eagle feathers and more offerings. The people of the Blackfoot Confederacy considered this site sacred.
My grandfather had been half Blackfoot and half Scot. His wife was Norwegian. His daughter, my mother, had married a Ukrainian. This left me one-eighth Blackfoot with a lingering sense of reverence toward the medicine wheel.
Finding no damage on the north side of the enclosure, I worked my way around to the south. Inside the fence, near one of the small satellite cairns sat a teenage boy, stubbornly erect, his gaze fixed on the southern sky. The symbols on his vest indicated that he was a member of the Blood Tribe. He seemed unaware of my presence. Recognizing that he was on a vision quest, I turned to withdraw.
A voice drew me back. “Don’t go, Sam. Come through the fence and meet my grandson.” The voice belonged to Hassun Parker, a friend of my grandfather. He was shuffling down the hill toward the boy.
Hassun handed a litre of grape juice and a strip of beef jerky to the boy. “This is Chogan. For four days, he has been here alone, without food or water, seeking a vision. Later, after a sweat lodge ceremony, he will share any vision with me and a few other elders. Now, though, I would like for him to hear your grandfather’s vision.”
I was more interested in getting home for my supper, but courtesy commanded compliance. Staring into the middle distance, I related the vision. As I finished, my gaze was drawn to Chogan’s face. His eyes were open wider than I would have believed possible.
He stammered, “M…m…my vision is the s…same. Except there is m…more. Before the rock flies away, a white man and an Indian face each other with guns. Another man stands between them. I c…can’t see this man’s face. H…he wears a cowboy hat with tears and holes. J…just like yours.”
Hassun regarded me as though meeting me for the first time. None of us found anything to say. As darkness gathered, we sat in silence.