- Relationship-dependent-meaning; The structure of linguistic engagement of Niitsi'powahsin (the Blackfoot language) can be thought of as a “grammar of animacy” (Kimmerer, 2017) - a manner of expression that isn't structured around things/nouns, but about sentience, dynamism, possibility.
- Complete meanings rather than words: Niitsi'powahsin is not a language of words, but a language of complete expressions. Distinctions of nouns and verbs dissolve because they don't exist without the other. Rather Áóhtakoistsi (groupings of sounds) come together do describe an Áíkia'pii (event) comprised of the interrelated and interdependent Iitáíssapo'pi (view or spatial dimension) + Niitáínaarrsii'pi (quality) + Áísawaa'pii (process/change) + Aanista'pii (manner-of-state).
- As such, we depart from our usual strategy of root word-based analysis. Instead, we focus on Aanissin, complete sayings.
- As well, "education" in not construed as an aspect of one's life. Rather, “Issksinima'tstohksinn” encompasses every aspect of learning and growth that one encounters through life.
For an explanation of this composite visual metaphor please view the video below.
Issksinima’tstohksinn is about co-evolving responsibilities for the Niipaitapiiwahsin way of life. It encompasses all forms of education including grade school, Pómmakssin (becoming responsible for keeping a bundle), becoming responsible for conducting ceremony, becoming responsible for teaching certain knowledge. It occurs when a mother teaches a child to make a meal, when a brother teaches a game, or when the land provides experiences for observing its constant changes. Teaching, learning, and knowing are always contextual and inseparable. "Niitap Ototamapiwa Issksinnimatstohksinni - Education is of great importance" (Bastien, 2004, p. 211)
Depending on the context, teaching is about Isspommotsinni (giving and sharing) in the Niipaitapiiyssin ihtsipaitapiiyo’pa (the way of life) by conducting Aaopaatoom (ceremony) and/or Naatowa’po’ksisst (holding a bundle through Pómmakssin) and/or becoming a knowledge keeper and’or Íínapannsini – giving public testimony, to give to historical accountings of events, etc. Elders’ teaching is often repetition of what is being observed (as skills) or heard (oral history). The land, sun, moon, rivers, lakes, rocks, plants and animals teach by being, changing, living and providing experiences.
Crop Eared Wolf (2007) describes how “[w]ithin Káínai protocol it is Kínna ki kiksíssta (your father and mother), Kaaáhsiksi (grandparents), Kí’siksi (older brothers) who are responsible for teaching you. They are your primary sources of gaining knowledge. Next are Elders of the community in general who have the specific knowledge that you are seeking. In matters touching on deep knowledge it is the ceremonial grandparents, Aaáwaahskataiks, whom you approach” (p. 19).
An example of how the land teaches is in the names of the 13 moons which reflect earth’s cycles and seasons: Matoomstaato’si – First Winter Moon, Isstaato’si – Cold Moon, Iihkanoomiitaakoowa – We all Feed and Prepare, Ka’toyi – All Consuming Moon, Piitaiki’soom – Eagle Moon, Sa’aiki’somm – Duck Moon, Matsiyikkapisaiki’somm – Frog Moon, Apistsisskitsaato’si – Blossom Moon, Misamsootaato’si – Moon of the Long Rains, Okonokiistsiotsitai’tssp – When Saskatoons Ripen, Pakki’pistsiotsitai’tssp – When Chokecherries Ripen. Iitamatapapittssko – When Leaves Change Colour. Below is an image of the 13 moons displayed at the Waterton Lakes Visitor Center.
Photo Credits: Bridge City News (1 Jul 19, 2022) Waterton Lakes Visitor Centre Features Blackfoot Exhibit. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HalN3_flmM4</a >
Common phrases about teaching
- Okakusin Telling a person to be aware all the time.
- Támokskitsinikookit, meaning, when an Elder who is teaching asks “Would you relay back to me the outcome?” This recognizes your responsibilities and provides for accountability (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- Kitáaksskssopwahtsi’sakka ka kitáaksístssksook. When an Elder poses questions to gauge your understanding of their teaching (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- Ákaisskapiimiiwaiksi. A mother’s guidance and support of her children to set a life path for her children (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- Aisiimoki (aiskinnima’tsoki) – person is giving guidance; teachings, disciplines (Bastien, 2004).
- Áyaaksikowatayaaw the process of parents naming their child and setting their course in life. The parents confer with grandparents. It is believed that the power of the experiences of which names are drawn will guide the child and assist in their live (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- It is not good to fight in front of the children; it is as if you are teaching them anger, Miníkka’pii. (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- Íínapannssini, meaning they are “giving public testimony.” This is standard practice when one tells a story or passes on knowledge. It requires stating who you learned from, identifying them by name and indicating how they came to possess the knowledge (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- Niipaitapiiysiin – constant motion of breath together with Ihtsipaitapiiyo’pa identifies the meaning and purpose of life; to teach Siksikaitsitapiipaitapiiyssin, the Blackfoot way of life.
- Ihstsipaitapiiyo-pa – that which gives life, the creator who gives us life.
Learning is a constant and life-long process that begins when the parents sing to the baby in the womb and continues until death. A key aspect of learning is Kakyosin, which means to coming to know by observing with your whole being. The purpose of learning is to be a good person, to live a good life. There is no separation of teaching, learning, knowledge and context.
Learning is about Niipaitapiiwahsin (a constant breath of motion, living in and co-evolving responsibilities in the Black foot way of life). This includes participating in: Sopówahtsiyssini (a processs of inquiry), Aawaatoyinnaiyi (singing of scared songs), ceremonies, quests, accountings of events, etc…. Ssksinima’tsi (the one who is being taught) learns by Kakyosin (coming to know by observing with all your senses the patterns of life and the environment), Ihtsistototsp (experiencing), interacting and participating.
At some point a person may have sincere personal commitment to learn as expressed through Sopówahtsiyssini, the process of inquiry. Then they have someone approach a Kaahsinnooniksi (ceremonial grandparent) on their behalf. If the grandparent agrees, then they teach the person the knowledge of the bundles. This process requires listening to accounts and many tasks as required by the grandparent. Then when the grandparent feels the person is ready the transfer the bundle to the person in a process called Pómmaksin which transforms both the person and their community. At such point the person is considered to be someone who leads a good life.
Common phrases about learning
- Kakyosin isstaokaki’tsotp – observation gives us intelligence knowledge and wisdom (Bastien, 2004).
- Otsikímmotsii’ssiniaaw – the children will follow the ways of compassion shown by their mother and father.
- Life is regarded as a constantly unfolding mystery, Iksistska’pinipáítapiiyssin, which may never be fully understood (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- A sincere personal commitment to learn as expressed through Sopówahtsiyssini, the process of inquiry (Crop Eared Wolf, 2007).
- Aistommatoominniki – when you have made it part of your body, embodying your knowledge, coming to know your heart. When one lives one’s knowledge, they have come to understand. For example, when one actually participates in a ceremony, they know what it is about (Bastien, 2004).
- Kii Nai’tsistomato’k Ai’stamma’tso’tsspi – embodying or being the knowledge the knowledge that you have been given, making knowledge part of your body (Bastien, 2004).
- Aistommatop – transformed, when we have embodied the knowledge, we are the knowledge, the knowledge is in us (Bastien, 2004).
- Ais saak otsistapitsihk niipaitapiiyssinni – seeking to understand life. (Bastien, 2004).
Phrases about Knowledge
- Kakyosin – spirit of knowledge that means ‘to observe.’ It is the essence of knowledge and is related to Mokaksin the knowledge, intelligence and wisdom that comes from observation and connection with the universe. Through Kakyosin one can align themselves with the patterns of the universe (Bastien, 2004).
- Kipaitapiwahsinnooni – traditional knowledge, life encompasses a lot of things.
Phrases about knowing
- Nináóhkanistssksinii’pi – what I know of the matter.
- Akaotsistapi’takyo’p – “we have come to understand [not merely know] it” (Bastien, 2004. p. 198) Coming to know; the way to connect to relations experientially through ways of knowing. Knowing as experiential knowing.
- Ao’tsistapitakyoki – transformed consciousness.
- Aisskinihp – we know it to be like that (Bastien, 2004).
- Aotsistapitsihk Maanistsihp –consciousness of the natural order.
Tools for knowing
The Blackfoot language is traditionally oral. As such they have many tools for helping them remember knowledge. These tools have deep spiritual meaning. Some examples of such tools for remembering are:
- Ceremonial Bundles that are transferred as part of
Pómmakssin. There are many different types of bundles with as
many different sizes Bundles can include a cloth wrapping, medicines
and tools for ceremony, animal skins, pipes, buckskin bags, amulets,
Photo Credits: Scriver, Bob (1990) The Blackfeet Artists of the Northern Plains: The Scriver Collection of Blackfeet Artifacts and Related Objects, 1894––1990</em >. Lowell Press. Note it is permissible to show the bundle if the picture already exists.
- A Winter Count tells a story. In the example below, Many Shots’ 1895
Káínai Winter Count tells four stories, one in each quadrant of the
hide. The lines in the center are a tally to indicate the passing of
Photo Credits. Pitt Rivers Museum (n.d.) Many Shot’s Robe. Available https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/many-shots-robe#listing_731466_0</a >
- Landmarks like the Aka-Kitsipimi-ota (Many Spotted horses)
Medicine Wheel below are memorials to people and events. The circle of
rocks forms the base of a tipi or lodge. The center is the fire
hearth. The four lines align with the four directions.
Aka-Kitsipimi-ota was Káínai rich War Chief. His 30 buffalo
skin tipi had two doorways and two fireplaces (Pard et al., 2016).
Photo credits: Pard et al. (2016). The Blackfoot Medicine Wheel project. Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper 36, 86-99.
- These landmarks are quintessentially Blackfoot. They are sites for remembering, teaching and learning, performing ceremonies and for participating in vision quests.
Please cite this article as:
Francis, K., & Davis, B., Elliott, M., Staahtsisttayaaki Fox, G. A. (2022) “Issksinima’tstohksinn" (Blackfoot). in Metaphors of Learning in Different Languages. https://doi.org/10.11575/8B7N-V637. https://learningmetaphors.com
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