The Sheridan Community Land Trust SCLT, and the Sheridan College Native American Student Organization hosted Dr. Shane Doyle of Bozeman, MT, who presented Messages from Medicine Wheel Country on Wednesday, April 27.
Nearly 170 people attended the program and Carrie Edinger, SCLT, introduced Doyle saying, “He is an educational and cultural consultant as well as an educator, archaeological and genetic researcher and Plains Indian style singer.”
Edinger and Doyle
Doyle said he was pleased to see a contingency from Lodge Grass at the program. “I taught at Lodge Grass for four years, and I am happy to see some of my colleagues and young people from Lodge Grass here.”
Doyle, who grew up on the Crow Reservation in Montana, said, “I am part of the Big Lodge Clan. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of the culture, I learned a lot.”
He said when he got into college, he decided he wanted to study more of the Native American cultures. He said they are seven reservations in Montana, and some have more than one tribe. He said he continues to stay involved with traditional aspects of his culture; the sweat lodge, Sundances and the Native American church. “I learned from so many different tribal peoples about their histories. I learned not only from books from my own experiences.”
In 2013 he was invited to come to an ancient burial site in Park County, Montana. He said that he had heard about the Anzick Clovis Site but had never been there. The archaeologist at the site said the remains found there were 12,600 years old.
Doyle added that the young child buried there was 100 percent Native American and there were 118 Clovis artifacts in the grave. The child’s grandparents were the ancestors of all the Native American peoples in the western hemisphere, especially south of Montana. “After that my focus was on ancient histories,” Doyle said.
He said that not a whole lot is known about the cultures before the horse came to the plains. And what he discovered flew in the face of what he had always learned, about the various tribes fighting each other. “My people, the Crow, were right in the middle. But how did the tribes interact before that time?”
He said he noticed two themes in his studies. First there is incredible diversity, especially in language. One slide in the presentation was a map of the languages of people on the northern plains, there are six major languages, Shouan, Kiowan, Caddoan, Algonquian, Shoshonean and Athabascan.
He said that the Shoshone Indians on Wind River speak a dialect of the Aztecan language, which is a very old language, and the Shoshone are the northern most tribe to speak that dialect. Each tribe had distinct cultural practices. The other theme was sameness.
He added that the people who lived here for the last 12000 years had to move from winter camps to summer camps and they moved constantly to harvest the wild resources. “So, we have these people who are different but very much the same. I began looking at star stories, and many of the star stories are word for word the same. The Blackfeet, the Shoshone, the Crow and Cree all have the same story about Orin’s belt. I couldn’t believe that four different tribes with four different languages had the same story. That could not have been a coincidence.”
Doyle said the one thing that connected these people was the sign language they used. It is the most sophisticated sign language in the world, and it was right here. It is not owned by any one tribe, and it is the only language that is not colonial in nature
The sign language was important to communicate with each other. Keeping the sign language going points to a stable culture and communities. They had to understand their neighbors, who were their trading partners.
As the tribes traveled, following the game, and they would have encountered other tribal groups. People who were coming together that couldn’t understand each other, had to create a language and then pass it down. Every community had to do this if it is to survive. “They wanted to be a part of a community. It’s a natural human thing.”
“Most anthropologist speak of the plains tribes as Hunter-Gathers. That’s kind of two dimensional. Its like saying today we go to work, get a paycheck to cover only our physical needs,” he added that it doesn’t take into account other aspects of living. “There is another aspect to the human condition,” he added, “A need to connect.” Trade was just as important as hunting and gathering, because it connected them to the world and allowed them to see others as someone to learn from. It gave their children an opportunity to enrich themselves.
The Fiddler Map
One proof that there was a lot of commerce among the ancient peoples, is Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone National Park, the most significant archaeological site other than the Clovis site. For thousand of years obsidian has been harvested from Obsidian Cliff, or traded to other tribes. As much as 200 pounds of this obsidian was recovered from a site in Ohio.
Another slide showed an old map, the Peter Fiddler map. Fiddler was a trapper on the confluence of the Red Deer and Saskatchewan rivers set up a fort and a trading post. He called in the Blackfeet to give him information about local area. In 1801, one chief, named Feathers, drew a map in the snow, showing all the rivers that flowed into the Missouri.
He named each river, told how many days travel it was, and he named every tribe along each river, He also knew about the Continental Divide and he said no rivers goes through that divide. He said two big rivers, the Snake and Columbia, lay on the west side of the mountains. The map was a demographic as well as a geological map. “It covers 500,000 square miles.” Doyle said. “There has never been another map that can compare with the scope and size of this map.”
Peter Fiddler copied it and had a courier take it to London. Later it was given to Thomas Jefferson and from there into the hands of Meriwether Lewis in 1804.
Doyle said that the Medicine Wheel Country was a mecca for the plains tribes for several reasons. He noted there are several mountain ranges, and that was where they got the lodge poles. There were winter camp sites, fresh water, an abundance and diversity of plant and animal species, and the ceremonial sites such as the Sundance and vision quest areas. They had every thing needed to live, including the bison. The dry climate helped as well, as all the berries and the bison meat could be dried and stored over the winter.
Doyle said this about the Medicine Wheel. “When most of us think of a Medicine Wheel, we think of the Big Horn Mountain Medicine Wheel. It is a national landmark, it is incredible. It is a sacred, magical, wonderful place. I always thought it was the only one. Outside of the tepee rings and arrow heads, this is the oldest cultural creation in this region.” He added that there are over 100 wheels across the great plains and into Canada.
Another aspect of the wheel is that the ceremonial Sundance comes from the Medicine Wheel. Every tribe has a version of a Sundance. It makes one feel a part of the universe.
He ended the presentation talking about how the coming of the white men caused a disintegration of families and the tribes. He then opened the floor for questions from the audience.