Gathering the Huckleberries



The Huckleberries.   Photo: John Hartman 2011



Elysia Moran and Victoria Spino, about to go huckleberrying with Grandpa, Rob Moran.  Photo: Frey 2003

Before beginning, let’s first prepare to gather some huckleberries. Over the years I’ve had the great opportunity of having Cliff SiJohn, a Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene Indian) elder and spiritual man, visit with students and speak on a variety of topics dear to his heart. Cliff always loved to share some of the “Indian ways” of his family with students. Among the topics he’d inevitably want to address, the first would be the significance of gathering huckleberries. He’d talk of the importance of mending the cedar baskets and preparing for the long trip to the mountain, of knowing when the berries were ready, and upon arriving on the mountain, of picking the berries with such care so as not to harm the bush. Cliff would then speak of the critical importance of sharing those hard-earned berries with those who are in need, with those who couldn’t make it to the mountain, and of properly storing the huckleberries for future use. My students and I would come to learn of the nourishment only the huckleberries could provide.

Then, as if changing the subject, Cliff would ask the students, “Why are you in school, taking these courses, what are you going to do with this education?” After letting each student respond, Cliff would pause. Breaking the silence and looking out into the class, as if speaking to each student individually, Cliff would affirm, “You know, your education is a gathering of the huckleberries. With your huckleberry basket firmly strapped to your side, gather what your teachers, what your textbooks, what your fellow students and friends, what your life-experiences, in and out of the classroom, have to offer you. Be attentive; listen, with all your mind, with all your heart (patting his hand on each in turn). With great care place those berries in your basket. Cherish them. And then when you or someone you care for is in need, facing a challenge, needs a little nourishment, needs a little guidance, a little help, pull out some berries and use them. Cherish your education, cherish your huckleberries.”



Tin Shed and Sweat House

(modified from Stories That Make the World pp. 5-8)


Alan Old Horn, at a Crow Fair Giveaway, Photo: Frey 1974

Tin Shed
Tin Shed, Crow Agency, MT., Photo: Frey 1974


Sitting under the shade of a cool cottonwood on an old wooden bench, Alan Old Horn (Apsáalooke elder) said, “You see that tin shed? . . . . it’s kinda like our way of life . . . . you can sit back here and talk about it . . but not really understand . . . . . it’s not til you go inside . . listen . . . . feel it . . feel the damp . . . see it from the inside looking out . . that you really know what it’s all about . . . . . you’ve gotta go inside” (from a conversation in 1974, appearing in Frey, Aripa and Yellowtail 1995:5-8).  And subsequently asking, "When you leave this tin shed, what are you going to do with what you've been given? With it, how are you going to help others?"  

And Cliff SiJohn (Schitsu'umsh elder) reiterated the same approach, sitting in a café in Plummer.  Cliff said, “Remember seeing that Sweat House?” as he looked to the south. “It’s like my culture. You can sit back here, in the comfort of this café, talk about it, view it from afar . . . or you can go inside. As the elder pours the water, just right, . . . feel the intense heat, feel the sweat pouring out from within, . . . see into the darkness, see from the inside of that darkness and look out. Be attentive, listen with your heart.  And when it’s your turn to pray aloud, what are you going to do, what are you going to say? It’s not until you go inside that you really can experience my culture, really come to know who we are” (from a conversation we had in 1989).


Cliff SiJohn, Plummer, ID., Photo: Frey 1990

Sweat House, Photo: Frey 1988



What does the Tin Shed and Sweat House mean?    

How are we to travel the landscape of another culture, so distinct from our own?    -   (the approach, the means we will use?)



with Alan and Cliff each asking us, . . . asking you,

do you see that Tin Shed? . . remember seeing that Sweat House?” . . .

as “we sat together . . . under the shade of an old cottonwood, . . . in the comfort of that café. . . .

“go inside . . listen, . .  be attentive, . . . listen with your heart . . .  

see it from the inside looking out . . .

feel it . . feel the damp, . . . feel the intense heat. . .

"and when its your turn . . . , what are you going to do, going to say?" . . .



What signal quality and capacity do we need in order to

"get off the wooden bench , under the comfort of the shade of the cottonwood"  ?

to successfully engage this course and cultivate some level of competencies in its learning outcomes  ?  . . . 




Despite all the anthropological skills, competencies and empathy we might bring to our research, there remains a potential dilemma often difficult to resolve.

"the mutually exclusive"


Medicine Wheel

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