This is an amazing new exhibit in England that I just happened to walk by when I was at the Pitt Rivers recently. These shirts date to around 1850, when they were given to British officials operating near the U.S.-Canadian border (Montana/Alberta), and they eventually found their way across the pond. The Blackfoot themselves seem to have had no knowledge of them until a few years ago, when some dignitaries were invited to inspect them and help contextualize them for the museum. It was immediately apparent that these were sacred items that should be shown to the Blackfoot people at large, so the five shirts (three of which are currently on display in Oxford) were loaned out to local museums in the U.S. and Canada so this could happen. The impact was tremendous, as Blackfoot men, women, and children responded powerfully to these shirts their ancestors had made by hand and generously given away. It is another outstanding example of Native American heritage abroad that I have been overjoyed to run across thousands of miles from home here in the UK!
“A little while and I will be gone from among you, when I cannot tell. From nowhere we came, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot, Deathbed Speech, 1890