transferring the bear kife

2007, oil, 44"h x 70"w

25.Transfering the Bear Knife 44x70.jpg

From the pre-horse dog days, through the historical period, the power f the bear knife was legendary among the people of the Blackfoot Nation. The bear knife bundle was associated with warrior culture and was one of the oldest bundles possessed by the tribe. This bundle dated back to the time of Cave Bear Clans. During inter-tribal conflicts, the power of the knife was so renown that it could immobilize an enemy and send them fleeing at the sight of it brandished by a warrior! The system of sacred bundles, of which the knife was a part, was an integral and vibrant part of Blackfoot sun worship, religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. These bundles, with their contents, rites and ceremonies, could be transferred or purchased allowing the bundle keeper the option of passing on the duties and responsibilities of ownership to other worth tribal members.

With the power and prestige of such ownership came special accountability to the people for the benefit of the whole tribe. Bundle powers ranged from sovereignty in war, success in the hunt, horse stealing medicine, to healing and protection.

The inspiration for this painting came from the description of the transfer ceremony of the bear knife bundle in Clark Wissler's Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History. It reads, "...the chief object is a large dagger-like knife, to the handle of which was attached the jaws of a bear... which the recipient must catch when violently thrown at him..." The narrative depicts the moment when the knife keeper prepares to throw the sacred knife at the fearless recipient, as band chiefs, medicine men and warriors look on in silent anticipation of an uncertain outcome.