Monday, June 11, 2012

The Remnant of Israel
Personal Observations Regarding the Blackfeet Nation
An Aside

I spent Wednesday through Saturday this week on the Blackfeet Indian reservation in northwestern Montana. Having thought quite a bit recently about the offspring of Joseph and Lehi, the remnant of Israel, it was fascinating to be among these people and to observe them. The Blackfeet were known as the "lords of the plains." They were once a proud and powerful people. They were feared among the Indians of the plains perhaps more than any other tribe for their ruthlessness and their vicious nature toward enemies. And almost everyone was their enemy at one time. Fans of the fiction story Lonesome Dove will remember it was the Blackfeet in that story that caught Augustus and Pea-eye coming across the plains and severely wounded Augustus leading to his eventual death.

The environment the Blackfeet live in is one of beautiful, vast, grass covered, rolling plains and hills. The plains and hills give way on the west to the abrupt jutting Rocky Mountains that are visible from everywhere on the plains. The Blackfeet always considered the Rockies "sacred mountains." I have never been among the Blackfeet, when I did not feel something ancient and mystical about the land and the people.

Missing now, on the plains, are the tens of thousands of buffalo that provided the staple existence of the Blackfeet for centuries. My mind's eye sees them, (the buffalo,) every time I go there; vast herds of huge black and brown humpback beasts covering the plains and hills as far as the eye can see. The buffalo and the Blackfeet were one intricately interwoven economy at one time.

I wonder at the skill and ability of these people in their past to have taken stones and sticks and from the backs of fast horses killed what they needed from among the great herds of buffalo. I think of the tremendous joy, satisfaction, and gratitude that must have attended and filled those people whenever a buffalo went down. It took such enormous effort, skill, and ability for the Blackfeet to survive and thrive as they did.

The Blackfeet were adept at a method for acquiring buffalo that I think is fascinating. The method involved herding the buffalo from horseback like cattle. In this case, the buffalo, in their desperate attempt to escape, would run full tilt in front of the Indian riders. The Indians would push the buffalo herd toward a "pishkun." A pishkun is a physical feature on the plains where the high plain gives way abruptly to cliffs that are anywhere from 50 to 250 feet to the bottom. The Indians would run the entire herd of buffalo off the pishkun or cliffs. The fall from the cliffs killed or wounded many of the great beasts at one time. After the herd had been run off the pishkun, there were those assigned to go in at the bottom and finish off the wounded and dying animals. Then the entire party made up of men, women, and children, would go about the chore of dressing and preparing the carcasses of the animals for their use. A successful pishkun kill would provide meat, hides, and bone for a large village for several months.

Hunting for arrow heads, axes, and other tools of the Indians below the pishkuns was popular when I was a boy growing up in Montana.

I believe a part of the terrible scourge spoken of in the Book of Mormon that the European Gentiles would inflict on the remnant of Israel, was the near entire eradication of the buffalo. When the buffalo were gone, the Blackfeet, and virtually all of the plains Indians stood almost no chance of continuing life as they had been accustomed to. The once prosperous and proud people, who roamed freely across hundreds of miles of territory, were relegated to sitting on relatively small government allotted plots of land. Subsistence came no longer from buffalo and the land; instead, government checks, alcohol, drugs, and grocery stores became their lot. They are poor now, among the poorest people in America. The scourge of the Gentiles was thorough and complete in destroying the indigenous people by death, disease, starvation, humiliation, and poverty. These words of the Lord have been literally fulfilled in the treatment of the Native Americans including the Blackfeet by the white Gentiles:

8 But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them;
9 And because of the mercies of the Father unto the Gentiles, and also the judgments of the Father upon my people who are of the house of Israel, verily, verily, I say unto you, that after all this, and I have caused my people who are of the house of Israel to be smitten, and to be afflicted, and to be slain, and to be cast out from among them, and to become hated by them, and to become a hiss and a byword among them— (3Nephi 16: 8-9)

A "hiss and a byword" is a generous description of the lowly Blackfeet people I have observed firsthand for the last many days.

Very few hints of what they once were remain among the Blackfeet. But they have retained their fine horses. They were once among the very best horsemen. Every where on the reservation are herds of beautiful strong horses. As it once was, I believe it still is so among the Blackfeet, a man's status and worth among his Blackfeet peers are set by the number and quality of his horses. I muse to myself that perhaps from the backs of some of the ancestors of these very Indian ponies, buffalo hunts were conducted on the grassy plains of long ago.

I looked into the faces of many of the Blackfeet this week. I was looking to see remnants of Joseph and Lehi. What I saw was a look of something ancient. I felt something stir in me as I looked at these people. What they have become is not what they were. What they are now is not what they are destined to be. Israelite blood courses through their veins. In their features, that are distinct to them, I see their fathers Laman and Lemuel. They are a part of the seed of Lehi. Regardless of their circumstances now, they do in fact have title to this great land from the very highest source. It was given to them by the Father through His Only Begotten Son. He said to their Nephite fathers:

12 Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph.
13 And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you. (3Nephi 15: 12-13)

So, are the Blackfeet "the" prophetic remnant of Israel spoken of in the Book of Mormon? Or, are the Cherokee, or the Mohawk, or the Cree, or the Crows, or the Sioux, or the Navajo, or the Hopi? All of these are, as Joseph Smith said, the offspring of their fathers who were the Book of Mormon people, the offspring or seed of Lehi. They are therefore by definition "remnants” or the remainder of the Book of Mormon fathers. But are we getting ahead of ourselves to say they are all "the" remnant of Israel?

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