The next several posts in this blog will be a series involving a look at the Native American tribes that once flourished where the trail is now proposed to go. The word “tribes” is a common term used to describe the various groups of people who once populated the continent. I prefer and will use a different term. There is an excellent documentary from the 1990s about Native American cultures called 500 Nations. The title, of course, refers to the approximate number of “nations” that existed at the time of European arrival. The word “nation” is a much better term. For what is a nation but a group of people who share a common culture?
Going from north to south along the trail, the first nation is the Gros Ventre nation in north central Montana. Gros Ventre is a French term meaning fat belly. The term supposedly comes from a misinterpretation of sign language. One possible true descriptor for the nation comes from their own language: A’aninin which means “white clay people.” Anyone who has spent any amount of time in this part of Montana can attest to the abundance of white clay in the soil.
The Gros Ventre nation are sun worshipers. Given the dryness of the climate and the ubiquitous sun of the northern prairies, this is not surprising. I have heard several accounts of what it means to be a sun worshiper. The common misconception is that it is the sun itself that you stare at and pray to as it crosses the sky, but religions are deeper than that. A sun worshiping society is one that reveres the power within the sun – the life giving energy that is difficult to define. In this sense, we are all sun worshipers.
I leave with a link here for Edward Curtis, the noted photographer and chronicler of much of Native America. His book, the North American Indian is a classic, and represents a good deal of what is known about a number of key figures in Native American history.