Chasing “mamiiksi” near Raven’s Home

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I visit Southern Alberta, in Canada, regularly.  My family has roots in the area, primarily on the other side of the Alberta/Montana border, in Glacier National Park and on the Blackfeet Reservation. Also, my academic work has brought me to this area many times over the years to visit with Blackfoot religious leaders and practitioners, primarily among the North Piikani Blackfoot band. These days, my visits are also personally motivated.  I have many friends here, and there is some pretty great fishing too.

In the Blackfoot language, the word for fish (plural) is mamiiksi. There are a lot of them in Blackfoot Country, though  their abundance does not mean that they are easily caught. In addition to the wiliness and strength of the mamiiksi, anglers must deal with some truly brutal winds and generally unpredictable weather.

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I managed to make a couple of very quick trips to my favorite rivers in Southern Alberta this week.  I did so in between bouts of bad weather and grading different stacks of midterm exams and papers.  I had hoped to get out again today, but the temperature dropped thirty degrees.  Still, my short times at the rivers were enjoyable.

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My priority during these visits to Alberta is to enjoy the company of friends and to learn from them.   Much of what I have learned actually complements my fishing excursions.  This is because, for me, fly fishing is about experiencing a place and its inhabitants, not just catching fish.

One of my favorite rivers in the area — the river in which I hooked an 18-inch rainbow (pictured above) with a size 20 thread midge yesterday — is the Crowsnest River.  This river flows through an area that is particularly sacred to the Blackfeet.  It’s best not to talk in detail about such places, but let me just say that it is associated with Omahkai’stoo or Raven (literally, “big crow”). Thus, in a sense, the entire area is Raven’s back yard.  He happens to have jurisdiction over winter, as well.  But the rivers are not his. They are the dominion of the “Underwater People.” Fortunately for me, the Underwater People were willing to share some mamiiksi with me during this trip.

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I thank my wife for allowing me these trips that are so important to me, professionally and personally.  Of course, I thank my many human friends here, and the non-human persons too, for being such wonderful hosts.  But, it isn’t all roses (FYI, the province calls Southern Alberta “Wild Rose Country”).

Last night, I was leaving a store when a young Piikani man approached me and said, “You look like a nice, kind cowboy.”  He then asked me for some money to get back to the reserve, up the road.  Of course, I’ve been hit up for money by people all around the world.  But this guy had a really pained look in his eyes.  He wasn’t a regular drunk; he was a guy who was wrapping up a particularly bad bender.  He probably knew that he had caused a lot of people a lot of pain in the past few days.  He apologized for asking for money from me with tears in his eyes.  I saw him again this morning, as I had a coffee with a Piikani friend.  The young man came over and greeted my friend in the Blackfoot language, before saying that he needed some help.  My friend asked him what sort of help he needed.  For a moment, I thought that the young man had made an important decision to improve his life.  You see, my friend is a traditional religious elder. Unfortunately, the young man just wanted some more money. Anyway, I hope he made it home. And I hope he is working hard to mend the many things he probably broke during his bender.

In many ways, I consider this area and neighboring northwestern Montana — where I grew up and where my family lives — home. For now, though, life circumstances dictate that I am a visitor. And as much I love it here, I am eager to get back “home” to my beautiful wife, my wonderful daughter, and my fuzzy dog in the East. I’m sure I’ll be back here soon enough, chasing mamiiksi once again very near to Raven’s own home.

4 Responses to “Chasing “mamiiksi” near Raven’s Home”

  1. rivertoprambles Says:

    Your home place in Alberta sounds like stimulating country. I’m reminded of a hike I took that inspired a poem called “Raven,” the conclusion of which goes like this: “…We acknowledged powers/ of creation– like the tribes/ that knew a god when life/ was a twig in Raven’s beak.” Thanks for sharing.

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    • Kenov Says:

      And thank you for sharing, too; I find myself loving poetry more than ever, lately. Ravens and other corvids are pretty amazing. I think I could probably live anyplace that has ravens or crows. It’s funny that they seem to be a bit of a theme in my life; they have great historical significance in Hungary too, where my wife is from and where we spend time.

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  2. cofisher49 Says:

    I’ve had a fascination with that part of the country and the Blackfeet for a long time. Your story is sad but so common that it’s easy to forget the proud traditions of the natives. Glad you posted this.

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    • Kenov Says:

      It’s a special place, for sure. And I think that you are spot on about the sadder stories overshadowing the positive ones. In reality, most of the Blackfoot bands are doing well, and their traditions are stronger than most. In some cultures — including ours — tradition doesn’t mean much anymore. Maybe that’s why folks like you and I are attracted to fly fishing: there is so much tradition involved.

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