Throughout Fools Crow, protagonist White Man’s Dog, later Fools Crow, is guided both literally and metaphorically by the natural world. The sky and the stars take center stage, and against the familiar backdrop of the constellations, Fools Crow and the other Pikuni Indians search for meaning on the vast western plains of the Montana Territory. As hunters and gatherers, the Pikuni people have a deep appreciation for nature, and the rich history of their ancestors leads to a profound connection with their native land. Napi, the Pikuni creator and principle deity, is often represented as the sun—along with the Sun Chief—and other lesser spirits are likewise represented in the sky, the earth, and the water. The link between Pikuni spirituality and the natural world suggests a powerful respect for and appreciation of nature, which, in turn, is essential for the preservation of Pikuni life.
The natural world is a principal feature in Pikuni life and a primary source of power throughout Fools Crow. As an inexperienced warrior at the start of the novel, Fools Crow is without “good medicine” and looks to his spirit animal for power and courage. Fools Crow sweats, prays, fasts, and smokes to summon his spirit animal, and while he does finally succeed, “he only comes to look at [Fools Crow].” While Fools Crow’s spirit animal proves elusive, Fools Crow claims that “one day he will come to me and offer up his strength. Perhaps he is testing me to see if I am worthy.” Even though his spirit animal does not easily give him strength, Fools Crow is determined to continue searching for this power.
When Fools Crow and the other Pikuni warriors ready themselves to attack the enemy Crow, Yellow Kidney paints his face with the “familiar pattern” of Seven Persons, or the big dipper. As he colors “the left half of his face white with a series of small blue dots,” Yellow Kidney finds his own power and “medicine” in the unwavering guidance of the constellation. Mik-api, a powerful many-faces man, or healer of the sick, mentors Fools Crow as he learns the art of healing. Mik-api frequently speaks to Fools Crow through Raven, an animal helper, and it is through this bird that Fools Crow finally connects with Skunk Bear, a wolverine and his own spirit animal. Because of Raven and Skunk Bear, Fools Crow can finally harness his “strong medicine” and become a respected member of the Pikuni tribe. Again, the natural world is a primary source of power and courage within Pikuni life.
The Pikuni emphasis on nature in their religious beliefs stems from their reliance on nature in everyday life, as well as the necessity of respecting, understanding, and honoring the natural world in order to survive. The Pikuni people worship their creator, Napi, and the Above Ones, Below Ones, and the Underwater People. The Above Ones are represented in the sky and the stars, and the Below Ones and the Underwater People are represented by animals and fish. The Pikunis frequently give thanks to these deities, and they pray to their representations within the natural world. As a powerful heavy-singer-for-the-sick, Boss Ribs, spiritual leader of the Pikuni people, possesses one of only three Beaver Medicine bundles. Boss Ribs’s medicine bundle is the strongest in the Pikuni tribe, and the objects and totems inside it represent hundreds of songs and prayers inspired by the magic of the sacred wood-biter, which are used to fulfill the spiritual needs of the tribe.
Each summer, the bands of the Pikuni tribes of the Blackfeet Indians meet on the flat plain beneath Four Persons Butte and worship the Above Ones during the Sun Ceremony. It is during this ceremony that Yellow Kidney’s wife, Heavy Shield Woman, takes the vow of the Sacred Woman, and Fools Crow undergoes a purification ritual in which bad spirits are cast out of his body as he prays to Sun Chief.
The fate of the Pikuni people is thus tied to nature and this is reflected in the way their life depends on living in harmony with nature. Their spirituality reflects this appreciation of and respect for the natural world. White settlers, by contrast, lack this respect and destroy the natural world on which the Pikunis depend. The Napikwans force the Pikuni to grow crops unsuitable for the Montana soil and raise whitehorn cattle instead of hunting blackhorns. They even endeavor to dig up large sections of Pikuni land looking for gold. The Napikwans’ approach to the natural world inherently destroys the Pikuni way of life.
Spirituality and the Natural World ThemeTracker
Spirituality and the Natural World Quotes in Fools Crow
White Man’s Dog raised his eyes to the west and followed the Backbone of the World from south to north until he could pick out Chief Mountain. It stood a little apart from the other mountains, not as tall as some but strong, its square granite face a landmark to all who passed. But it was more than a landmark to the Pikunis, Kainahs, and Siksikas, the three tribes of the Blackfeet, for it was on top of Chief Mountain that the blackhorn skull pillows of the great warriors still lay. On those skulls Eagle Head and Iron Breast had dreamed their visions in the long-ago, and the animal helpers had made them strong in spirit and fortunate in war.
[White Man’s Dog] had never touched the body of a woman. His friends teased him and called him dog-lover. […] [A friend] offered White Man’s dog some of his Liars’ Medicine to make himself attractive but it did no good. Even the bad girls who hung around the forts wanted nothing to do with him. Because he did not own a fine gun and a strong horse they ignored him.
[White Man’s Dog] prayed to Sun Chief, who watched over the Pikunis and all the things of this world. Then he dropped his head and made a vow. He vowed that if he was successful and returned home unharmed, he would sacrifice before the Medicine Pole at the next Sun Dance. Finally, he sang his war song, his voice low and distinct. When he lifted his head he saw that the other men had painted their faces. Yellow Kidney had painted the left half of his face white with a series of small blue dots in a familiar pattern. Seven Persons, thought White Man’s Dog.
But [White Man’s Dog] killed many animals on his solitary hunts and he left many of them outside the lodge of Heavy Shield Woman. Sometimes he left a whole blackhorn there, for only the blackhorn could provide for all the needs of a family. Although the women possessed kettles and steel knives, they still preferred to make spoons and dippers out of the horns of the blackhorn. They used the hair of the head and heard to make braided halters and bridles and soft-padded saddles. They used the hooves to make rattles or glue, and the tails to swat flies. And they dressed the dehaired skins to make lodge covers and linings and clothes and winding cloths. Without the blackhorn, the Piknuis would be as sad as the little bigmouths who howled all night.
“It surprises you that I speak the language of the two-leggeds. It’s easy, for I have lived among you many times in my travel. I speak many languages. I converse with the blackhorns and the real-bears and the wood-biters. Bigmouth and I discuss many things.” Raven made a face. “I even deign to speak once in a while with the swift silver people who live in the water—but they are dumb and lead lives without interest. I myself am very wise. That is why Mik-api treats me to a smoke now and then.”
But all that had changed now because Fast Horse had changed. He had become an outsider within his own band. He no longer sought the company of others, and they avoided him. The girls who had once looked so admiringly on him now averted their eyes when he passed. The young men considered him a source of bad medicine, and the older ones did not invite him for a smoke. Even his own father had begun to look upon him with doubt and regret. As for Fast Horse, the more he stared at the Beaver Medicine, the more it lost meaning for him. That would not be the way of his power. His power would be tangible and immediate.
“[…] It was there, that day while looking at my scars and my hands, that I knew why I had been punished so severely. As you men of the warrior societies know, in all things, to the extent of my ability, I have tried to act honorably. But there in that Crow lodge, in that lodge of death, I had broken one of the simplest decencies by which people live. In fornicating with the dying girl, I had taken her honor, her opportunity to die virtuously. I have taken the path traveled only by the meanest scavengers. And so Old Man, as he created me, took away my life many times and left me like this, worse than dead, to think of my transgression every day, to be reminded every time I attempt the smallest act that men take for granted.”
“It is good to see you again, brother,” [Skunk Bear] said. “I have got myself caught again and there is no one around but you.”
“But why is it so white, Skunk Bear?” White Man’s Dog had to shield his eyes from the glare.
“That’s the way it is now. All the breathing things are gone—except for us. But hurry, brother, for I feel my strength slipping away.”
White Man’s Dog stood and watched the burial and thought of the afternoon a few days before when Sun Chief hid his face. And he thought of Fox Eyes riding down on Bull Shield instead of taking the simple shot that would have killed the Crow. White Man’s Dog couldn’t shake the feeling that Fox Eyes knew he was going to die, perhaps even wanted to. Only great chiefs died when Sun hid his face.
[Red Paint] sat back on her heels and watched the slippery swimmer that had stationed himself in an eddy behind a yellow rock. […] She had been tempted for three days now to catch him and taste his flesh. Her own people scorned those who ate the underwater swimmers, but she had a cousin who had married into the Fish Eaters band of the Siksikas, and he had become fond of the silver creatures. […] Today she would make a bone hook. She would catch him for Fools Crow. In the solitude of the Backbone they would taste the flesh of this swimmer together.
“I do not fear for my people now. As you say, we will go to a happier place, far from the Napikwans, this disease and starvation. But I grieve for our children and their children, who will not know the life their people once lived. I see them on the yellow skin and they are dressed like Napikwans, they watch the Napikwans and learn much from them, but they are not happy. They lose their own way.”
“Much will be lost to them,” said Feather Woman. “But they will know the way it was. The stories will be handed down, and they will see that their people were proud and lived in accordance with the Below Ones, the Underwater People—and the Above Ones.”
From the fires of the camps, out on the rain-dark prairies, in the swales and washes, on the rolling hills, the rivers of great animals moved. Their backs were dark with rain and the rain gathered and trickled down their shaggy heads. Some grazed, some slept. Some had begun to molt. Their dark horns glistened in the rain as they stood guard over the sleeping calves. The blackhorns had returned, and, all around, it was as it should be.