Tribute to Tatsikiistamik, Narcisse Blood

Bob and Charlene Burns

There are so many people in Indian country processing the loss of our Blackfoot scholar, philosopher, activist, teacher, ceremonialist, healer, family member and friend, Tatsikiistamik (Middle Bull) Narcisse Blood. When a person does the work to heal themselves, and then helps everyone else on their path to do the same, they become like a precious gems. Narcisse was a precious gem to the Blackfoot Confederacy and the world.

Narcisse went on to the Sand Hills on February 10, 2015 after a tragic car accident. All of Blackfoot Country mourns our loss. Since then, there has been an outpouring of people wanting to pay their respects in some manner to him. We ask ourselves, how can we ever pay proper respect to such a good person. The answer we came to in dealing with the shock is that we can continue the work to heal ourselves by decolonizing ourselves and to be brave enough to be who we are. His statement, “It’s hard to defeat colonization when they have built outposts in our minds” is very insightful. Think about that. Think about how one man impacted the entire world because he chose to decolonize himself. Today, because of this, people are missing him in Great Britain, in Scotland, in Australia, and across Canada and the United States. By always striving to be himself, Narcisse showed us what self-actualization actually looks like.

It was amazing to watch Narcisse doing his life’s work. He had such passion for his work and a great appreciation for other peoples’ work as well. He always took the time to acknowledge everyone. It was as if he would say ‘I see you. I see you as a person. I acknowledge you.”’ Narcisse was always encouraging and supportive. He made everyone feel special. In his teachings he never used condemnation or belittlement, but rather he taught through love. Our family will miss this so much. He cheered us on in our life’s journey.

People who knew him often wondered how Narcisse managed to maintain so many relationships so well. He knew everyone. He used every tool possible to help maintain these relationships with people, whether it was through film, academia, social media or ceremony, Narcisse used these tools to express encouragement, to build self-esteem and to promote healing.

Narcisse was quite a character, constantly spreading his laughter. Facebook friends got a glimpse of this side of Narcisse through his hilarious exchanges with good friend Jonathon RedGun, whom he referred to as Napi, who is quite a character in Blackfoot traditional stories. We laughed at his antics with Jonathan and Sonny as they insulted each other much like the characters in the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” teasing one another, their corny jokes setting the good mood for the day. Live, laugh, love would describe his life well.

So many people who otherwise would not have known Narcisse got the opportunity to know him because he was so willing to share the knowledge and wisdom he had acquired in his journey. He was a great teacher. He helped develop the Kainai Studies Program at the Red Crow Community College and was passionate that it remains a place where the worldview of the Blackfoot peoples is the guiding force. “You can go to many, many institutions and learn academics but let this be one place you can learn Blackfoot thought,” he said. Although he thought it was important to know and talk about the pain of the past, Narcisse did not teach out of anger, but instead taught from a philosophy of pure love and moving toward healing. The media he used to spread this message gave him the opportunity to have the world as his classroom.

One should never mistake Narcisse’s gentle and kind teachings with being passive. Narcisse used his voice to speak out passionately against all injustices and human suffering of any kind. “He would say, first we are human beings. We are meant to love one another. Then you can add all the other titles.” He was an activist. He was an activist for children because he acknowledged them as being the center of the world. He was an activist against violence. He was an activist for the earth and the environment, often speaking out passionately about topics like the Keystone XL Pipeline, fracking, changing the name of the Washington D.C. football team, and politics that promote greed and capitalism. “When will enough be enough?” he would say.

Narcisse traveled throughout Canada and the United States with colleague and dear friend Ryan HeavyHead, speaking in colleges and universities about how the renowned social scientist and psychologist Abraham Maslow spent time studying the Blackfoot people at Siksika. They spoke about the effect that Blackfoot thinking had on Maslow. It changed him from being a hard-core scientist. They talked about how Maslow observed the great love the Blackfoot had for their children and how they respected and empowered them. Maslow wrote that there was no violence among the Blackfoot people, and that the people and society were extremely secure.

Narcisse and Ryan used the Maslow presentation to show that in just six months of learning from our beautiful Blackfoot way of knowing, Maslow was greatly impacted, and through him, the whole world was impacted. It is an outstanding presentation. In a recent Blackfoot language class in Browning, Mont., Narcisse spoke about the strengths of the Blackfoot people before colonization. He said that when planning how to assimilate Native peoples, the planners sought to destroy their sources of strength, the three things that made it hard to defeat the Blackfoot: their great love and respect for their children, their strong spirituality, and the fact that they were not afraid to die.

Observing Narcisse, his beloved wife Alvine Mountain Horse, and their beautiful children Caroline, Michelle, Charlene, Myles, Joey, and their grandchildren, it is obvious that the traditional cultural dynamic of deep love and respect has been passed on. We were recently able to tell Narcisse how much our family, and the Amskapi Pikaanii appreciated he and Alvine’s work, telling him how I could see that their children are a testament of what they teach. At young ages, the children of Narcisse and Alvine have already taken on significant roles of responsibility to carry the Blackfoot culture forward to the next generation, no easy task. Narcisse and Alvine together presented their children to the world the same way they presented the culture, with such pride and joy, love and respect.

Narcisse spoke against domestic violence by speaking about the significance of the role of the woman to the Blackfoot people, placing them as having higher status than the man because of their role of giving life and holding the family together. He often said that all Blackfoot ceremonies were given first to the woman. He exemplified this message in his own life, having such deep love and respect for his wife, Alvine. He recently told a group of Amskapi Pikaanii students that it is a shame for abuse centers to be needed within our Blackfoot Confederacy boundaries. He taught that this is part of the disease that came to us with our colonization, a disease we must work to defeat. “It is not our fault that we were hurt,” he would say, “but it is up to us to work toward our own healing.” Narcisse encouraged us to use our voices to end racism and suffering, and to honor all life and all living beings.

Above all, Narcisse loved the Blackfoot way of life and ceremony. It is not a religion, he would say, it is a life of connections and relationship. It is a walk of respect where everything that exists cooperates with each other. It is an entire paradigm. For those who shared this ceremonial lifestyle with Narcisse, it will be hard to go to the Sundance and not see him there. But he will be there in our thoughts and in our teachings and in the ceremony itself.

Blackfoot language preservation and revitalization was another passion Narcisse shared with his wife and family. Narcisse and Alvine sacrificed to send Alvine back to school to work on her doctorate in linguistics so that she could help to restore the language, and to make sure that it was brought back with Blackfoot thought, not having to fit into the Western paradigm, but with all the respect that is deserved from the Blackfoot paradigm.

The passing of Narcisse is no small loss to the Blackfoot Confederacy, but we will honor him by remembering and meeting the challenges he gave us. He challenged us all to heal ourselves. He challenged us to learn our language, to say our Blackfoot words, and not invite doubt that we cannot do it. He challenged us to think like a Blackfoot person and not be afraid or intimidated. He challenged us to know and recapture who we are, where we come from, and what our journey of life is about. He challenged us all to honor each other, to love each other. He wanted his students to visit and learn the stories of sacred sites within the Blackfoot Territory.

“It’s important that the land recognize you,” he would say. It’s that relationship with the land that has sustained us. We must carry on that work and by doing so we will remember you, our dear friend and teacher, Narcisse Blood. A beautiful example of a Blackfoot man, a beautiful example of a human being, we will miss you and we will miss your encouragement. But now we must encourage ourselves and by doing so, we will encourage others.

Bob and Charlene Burns live in Babb, Montana and own the Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club.

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