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Landscapes of Heritage at the Blackfeet Boarding School, Montana

Lecture | September 13 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

William A. White III, University of California, Berkeley Department of Anthropology

Archaeological Research Facility

For centuries, the Blackfeet people of northern Montana crafted a cultural landscape that served as the backdrop against which life was lived. By the nineteenth century, Blackfeet ways and landscapes had changed but fragments of their past remained. The boarding school system of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was designed by the United States government as a formal program to eradicate Native American cultural identities and lifeways. It was a system that removed Native children from their families and placed them into a way of life that garishly clashed with their traditional beliefs and culture. One of the primary goals of the boarding school was to transform children of the Blackfeet Tribe in northern Montana into sedentary farmers. Corruption, cruelty, and mismanagement forced these children to endure forced labor and deprivation while operating the school’s farm. Despite what was done to hundreds of Blackfeet children, Blackfeet culture survives today.

Research at the Cut Bank Boarding School on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana revealed a landscape of assimilation that had been overlaid upon a bison processing site-- the remnant of a traditional cultural landscape that remains a source of pride and orientation for the Blackfeet today. Through the lens of archaeology, archival research, and the memories of those who attended the school, this talk discusses the story of those who attended the boarding school, how the Blackfeet resisted forced assimilation, and how reclaiming heritage through archaeology has changed our understanding of this landscape.