By Jesse DesRosier
Niipatapiisinaan, which means “our way of life,” cannot be described simply as a religion, mostly because there is no religion comparable to it.
The Pikuni culture predates Christianity by 8,000 years, according to Western science; however to the Pikuni people (of the Blackfoot confederacy) our living culture has been alive since the beginning of time. We have always been here. The surviving four nations of the Blackfoot confederacy maintain just a small portion of our traditional territory, with three reserves in Alberta, Canada, and one reservation in Northwest Montana. However we remain here because of our resiliency as well as our ability to stand strong and fight to keep our way of life. A big part of niipatapiisinaan comes from our environment and all of our natural resources.
Badger-Two Medicine is part of our way of life, and one of our most treasured natural resources.
For the Pikuni, natural resources are not valued from any material wealth, and it does not include gas, oil, commercial hunting and fishing or timber sales. Although it does include the trees, air, water, the rocks and animals, our definition for natural resources includes the physical and the spiritual. It is our connection through niipatapiisinaan that calls us to our environment, and connects us to our roots as the original people of this territory. In the Badger-Two Medicine, Pikuni families trace back relatives who have utilized the resources within those mountains and forests for generations predating European immigration. Families for thousands of years have ventured into Badger-Two Medicine to provide meat for their families, to seek medicinal plants and roots, or to just seek a better understanding of niipatapiisinaan.
Niipatapiisinaan requires a balance, and with this there must be a peaceful mindset in tune with the environment. In fact our definition of aatsimoyiiskan or “prayer” is to seek a balance, and a person would do this prior to entering any sacred space. A balance is required for people entering the Badger- Two Medicine, and many Pikuni travel into Badger-Two Medicine to seek a deeper understanding of that balance.
Since the designation of the reservation and ceded lands the Pikuni have suffered great losses to our way of life. For many, survival was their only thought, and our language and prayers were forbidden. Not until 1978 was it legal for the Pikuni to practice our traditional way of life again and speak our language without fear of punishment from the government agencies who dominated our reservation. Today we are able to seek a healing through niipatapiisinaan and attempt to heal all the wounds of the historical trauma brought on by Western expansion.
For generations, veterans have utilized Badger-Two Medicine through niipatapiisinaan to seek peace. One thing that has never changed for the Pikuni is the willingness to serve our communities and country within the United States military. Native Americans serve at the highest rate per capita over any other ethnicity, and Montana has the highest number of veterans of any other state. I am a fourth-generation veteran, and since 2015 I have joined alongside thousands of veterans through Vet Voice (a non-profit organization) whose main focus is protecting wilderness and public lands for veterans healing.
Badger-Two Medicine belongs to the Pikuni people. We have fought to keep it in the natural state. As a Pikuni veteran, I say respect our way of life, and keep oil and gas out of Badger-Two Medicine.
Jesse DesRosier is Blackfeet and a veteran of the United States Marines Corps. He recently moved back to Browning after obtaining degrees in anthropology and Native American studies from the University of Montana. He is now teaching at the Cuts Wood School, a Blackfoot-language immersion school.