It’s one thing to see artifacts from the past — to be told a rock is 200 million years old or a buffalo tooth is over 200 years old — holding these in your hands is another thing entirely.
Students in Mae Koopal’s sixth grade social studies class at Whitefish Middle School had this opportunity last week, when Blackfeet artist and elder Albertine Crow Shoe gave a presentation on a variety of Blackfeet artifacts as well as her own work.
Crow Shoe recently finished a year as Artist in Residence at the Glenbow museum in Calgary, Alberta, where she explored the museum’s collection of artifacts similar to the ones she brought to Whitefish Middle School and used that inspiration to create new works of art.
During her presentation, Crow Shoe worked her way through a number of relics and objects, such as stone tools used for grinding and bread-making, jewelry, pictographs, and more.
The students listened intently as they rolled the items around in their hands. When one stone tool was revealed by Crow Shoe to be roughly 200 million years old, one student remarked, “That’s older than like everyone in this school combined!”
Crow Shoe, a full-time artist for the last five years, also showed some of her personal work, which includes necklaces, bracelets, decorative horse masks and more.
For her, it’s watching students’ faces light up that makes her presentations fun.
“It’s showing the students something they haven’t seen, and seeing their eyes light up. Seeing that, ‘Oh, OK.’ It’s like a bulb goes off. When I talk about a buffalo, or tell them how old a rock is, or even a pictograph and I ask them what they see, each one of them saw something different,” she said.
Crow Shoe adds that it’s important for students not to see the items she brings in and think of a group of people since gone.
“We’ve always been here. This is where we live, this is where our grandparents lived, this is where our creation stories tell us we’re from,” she said.
The talk was arranged by Sue Fletcher, a Stumptown Art Studio Board member and director of Blackfeet at HeART, a nonprofit that connects Valley students with Blackfeet artists.
“Its mission is to bring art materials and art opportunities to the Blackfeet,” Fletcher said. “I sometimes think that it needs to be noted that just on the other side of the Continental Divide is a nation, the Blackfeet Nation. I think it’s very important that children get a better understanding of the nation and its heritage. I think it’s so important for us all to be eager to learn more about each other.”