Every Day is Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Dr. Kim Paul, Dr. Kristin Ruppel

Founder of the Piikani Lodge Health Institute
Professor of Native American Studies in the College of Letters and Science and director of MSU’s Native Land Project

Browning, Montana

While the sentiment expressed in this title may not be true in the mainstream—where special days remind the public of important, but often overlooked, people and events—it is true in Indian Country; for the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana, every day is Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

That reminder is voiced with the pride of survival and resistance. Survival, despite egregious past policies, systematic assimilation, land theft, religious persecution and the displacement of generations of children forced into boarding schools. Though the narrative around Indigenous Peoples’ Day is acknowledging the horrors of the past, the aftermath of these atrocities continue in different forms to this day. Indigenous communities often experience food deserts, lack of access to land and the inherited effects of colonization. The sentiment ‘Every Day is Indigenous Peoples’ Day’ is voiced, and lived, with a sense of resistance – and resilience.

Piikani Lodge Health Institute (PLHI), an Indigenous founded and led non-profit within the Amskapi Piikani Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, embodies the truths of Indigenous Peoples’ Day through its vision, mission and daily activities. PLHI is both humbled and continually excited to collaborate with the innovative Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research team on research that is strengthening Indigenous food sovereignty and both local and national food systems.

PLHI’s team and partners work to connect our Indigenous Nation’s residents—everyday people—with meaningful employment. The PLHI team further conducts Piikani-relevant and translational research, regenerative climate adaptation models of sustainability for all Natooiitapiiksi, Spoomitapiiksi, Sakoomitapiiksi, Sooiitapiiksi (biological and spiritual systems) and traditional pathways to improved health and well-being.

PLHI is determined, adaptive and diligent in its mission of braiding employment with value-based projects to meet community needs, while upholding Piikani core values. From delivering nearly 40,000 meals and 13,000 food boxes in subzero temperatures to vulnerable elders and outlying Blackfeet communities during the first year of the pandemic, to mentoring youth and young adults, to practicing language and Piikani values, PLHI is creating avenues for people to reclaim their relationship to land and cultural identity.

It is this work, grounded in Piikani values, that harnesses our cultural identity in resilient ways that help our community thrive. Piikani values are in evidence everywhere. And they are spelled out, literally, in the recently built Yellow Bird Woman Lodge named after the modern-day warrior Elouise Cobell at Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana. There, you’ll see adorning the halls a series of Amskapi Piikani Blackfeet terms expressing the people’s core values, beautifully documented and illustrated in text and larger-than-life historical photos to help guide the work that PLHI and others engage in on a daily basis.

The core values include:

  • Tsi-ksi-ka-ta-pi-wa-tsin: Piikani Way of Knowing. Piikani culture/spirituality in philosophy, thought and action.
  • Nin-na-wa-tsin: Being a Leader. Professionalism, integrity, and responsibility in human interaction.
  • Ini-yimm: Respect. Respect for oneself, all other people, all ideas and each thing in the natural world.
  • Ni-ta-pi-pa-ta-pi-tsin: Living in a Good Way. Honest in all thoughts and actions.
  • Ii-yi-kah-kii-ma-tsin: Trying Hard. Commitment, dedication, sincerity in the pursuit of all of our goals.
  • Aoh-kan-otah-tomo: Accepting Everyone. Embracing the unique talents and contributions of each individual.
  • Ii-ta-mii-pa-ta-pi-yoip: Happy Living. Humor, laughter and enjoyment of life.

As we consider the significance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day—a day meant not just to celebrate Indigenous peoples, but to pull down a monument to brutality, colonization and inhumanity—it’s especially meaningful to consider the myriad ways in which we might all strive to embody Piikani values in our own lives. If we could, maybe then everyday would be Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Officials from Montana State University (MSU) including Walter Fleming, center in black vest, director of the Department of Native American Studies, meets with elders of the Blackfeet Nation and representatives from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research during ceremonies held at the 2019 North American Indian Days to celebrate FFAR’s 100th grant to Blackfeet Nation and MSU. (Credit: MSU News Pressroom)