Herman Pipe stands in a place he used to come to while on furlough: where Sioux Chief Sitting Bull had a vision quest. Nellie Silk sits on the foundation of the home she was raised in. She wears traditional regalia she made herself. Shep Ferguson burns bear root, sweet grass, and sage to "smudge" his grandson. Ray White Tail Feather sits in his living room alone, after his wife passed away in the Spring of 2009. Mercy White Bear sits in her kitchen the day before she is set to get married. She is 83 years old.
As with Native American communities in other parts of the US, reservation life has systematically unraveled the social, spiritual, and cultural fabrics that held the Fort Peck tribesâ€™ society together.Now, nearly a decade into the 21st century, the generation of tribal members that has a direct connection to pre-reservation life will soon pass away. Simone de Beauvoir, in her study about aging, tells of a Balinese legend: It is said that once upon a time the people of a remote mountain village used to sacrifice and eat their old men. A day came when there was not a single old man left, and the traditions were lost. They wanted to build a great house for the meetings of the assembly, but when they came to look at the tree-trunks that had been cut for that purpose no one could tell the top from the bottom: if the timber were placed the wrong way up, it would set off a series of disasters. A young man said that if they promised never to eat the old men any more, he would be able to find a solution. They promised. He brought his grandfather, whom he had hidden; and the old man taught the community to tell top from bottom. In this confusing and complex age, this project hopes to use the lives and wisdom of these five elders as measuring points by which each of us can begin to make sense of our own identities and worlds.