Fools Crow

Topics: Plains Indians, Woman, Plains tribes Pages: 5 (2112 words) Published: April 24, 2002
We turn back the clock as Welch draws on historical sources and Blackfeet cultural stories in order to explore the past of his ancestors. As a result, he provides a basis for a new understanding of the past and the forces that led to the deciding factor of the Plains Indian tribes. Although Fools Crow reflects the pressure to assimilate inflicted by the white colonizers on the Blackfeet tribes, it also portrays the influence of economic changes during this period. The prosperity created by the hide trade does not ultimately protect the tribe from massacre by the white soldiers. It does, however, effectively change the Blackfeet economy and women's place in their society. Thus, it sets the stage for the continued deterioration of their societal system. Although their economic value is decreased, women still represent an important cog in the economic structure. Indeed, women are central to the survival of the Blackfeet tribal community that Welch creates and in many ways this strength and centrality provide background for the strength of the women depicted in his more contemporary novels. Welch's examination of the past leads to a clearer understanding of the present Blackfeet world presented throughout his work. James Welch relies heavily on documented Blackfeet history and family stories, but he merges those actual events and people with his imagination and thus creates a tension between fiction and history, weaving a tapestry that reflects a vital tribal community under pressure from outside forces. Welch re-imagines the past in order to document history in a way that includes past and future generations, offers readers insight into the tribal world-views of the Blackfeet, examines women's roles in the tribe, and leads to a recovery of identity. Welch also creates a Blackfeet world of the late 1800s--a tribal culture in the process of economic and social change as a result of the introduction of the horse and gun and the encroachment of the white invaders or "seizers" as Welch identifies them. Significantly, Welch deconstructs the myth that Plains Indian women were just slaves and beasts of burden and presents them as fully rounded women, women who were crucial to the survival of the tribal community. In fact, it is the women who perform the day-to-day duties and rituals that enable cultural survival for the tribes of the Plains. Through Fools Crow, we enter a centuries-old society that was altered by the introduction of the horse and gun to the Plains Indians in the mid-1700s and by the devastation of two epidemics of the "white scab" disease. The novel is set in the late 1860s, and the Blackfeet have "now regained their strength and are a powerful and confident people." More specifically, women's economic place in the community was affected by the introduction of the horse to the Blackfeet, which occurred around 1720 and changed the nature of buffalo hunting. Before the horse and hide trade, the life of Plains tribes was closer to the margins. When American Indians hunted on foot with bow and arrows, the killing of the buffalo or "blackhorn" was a community effort--an effort that offered women an equal role. The large-scale methods of hunting were the most successful and also included a large number of people, resulting in solidarity within the tribes and bands. These collective hunting methods affected the economic and political system and resulted in collective ownership of the hides and the goods traded for them. With the horse, hunters could travel to the buffalo, and their efficiency was increased. Thus, hunting was increasingly individualized. Social dynamics and the role of women changed, as hunting became primarily the work of young men. The horse was both a technological factor and a commodity. These changes affected not only women's economic status but also the dynamics of individual and communal relations. The women were necessary to process the hides that the men needed for trading, but horses were...
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