Tuesday, September 8, 2015


West of Denver, and fittingly, just down the hill from the grave site of Buffalo Bill on Lookout Mountain, you can find one of the state's most beloved attractions - Denver's American Bison (commonly referred to as Buffalo, also) herd.  They have an area on both sides of the highway, with passage underneath, so it's always a game of "I-Spy" on any given day, whether they will be within sight.  This day, we got extremely lucky - not only in sight, but close enough to photograph (after a small hike back), from behind the protection of a heavy fence.
In 1914, Denver acquired both Bison and Elk from the herds in Yellowstone, hoping to propagate the Bison and improve their odds against extinction.  The herd was split in 1939, and moved to another spot in the state of CO (Daniel's Park, by Castle Rock) - both herds are said to be maintained now at about 24 adult animals.  Small numbers, but a mighty and moving sight.
The American Bison once freely roamed the Great Plains and much of North America, numbering in the tens of millions.  Imagine a hillside like the one above, completely covered, as far as you could see.  These animals were critically important to the Plains Indian societies, being considered a sacred animal and religious symbol.  Not only did they provide food for these peoples, but the entire animal was revered and used, when taken - and they were only taken as needed.
During the 19th century, some 50 million of these great beasts were killed, mainly for sport, by the white man...MOST left simply to rot on the open prairies, the thrill of the slaughter being the main motivation.
These enormous herds were reduced to a few hundred animals in record time.  Pre-1800 estimations on numbers of bison is in the 60,000,000 (that's 60 MILLION) range.  By 1900, there were 300 left in the US.  Their numbers today are said to be somewhere around 200,000, with protected herds mainly on preserves and private ranches.
Standing about 60 to 70" high at the shoulders, the males can top the scales at over a ton.  Both sexes have horns.  For the first two months of life, the calves are a light, reddish-brown color, before turning dark, like the adults.  They do have a thicker coat in winter, which is what you see them shedding in these photos. Life expectancy for these mighty animals, under today's conditions, can be around 25 years.
Enjoying a lazy day - this was obviously "THE Man" - that's a female behind him.  They look docile, but are definitely not a force to be reckoned with - each year there are reports of gorings of ignorant tourists (mainly in Yellowstone National Park, where they roam free). Fences are in place for a reason (it also takes a LOT to contain Bison - ordinary fences don't usually deter them if they want out) - respect the fence that was put there for your protection.
These magnificent beasts are another reminder of the great stupidity and greed of man - almost doomed to never be seen by any of us, or our children and future generations.  Brought back from the brink, most thankfully.
Want to see this group?  Start looking at Exit 254 on I-70, around the Genesee Park area west of Denver.  Stop and marvel at this remarkable remainder of what once was the American Wild West.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


I do a few weeks of traveling through Native American lands every summer, in New Mexico and Arizona.  These states are dotted with what remains as a reminder of some of the worst travesties inflicted upon a people by the greed of the United States government - the Indian Reservations of the American Southwest.  I have a weird relative that halfway believed, right up until a few years ago, that Indians lived in tepees, still.  Those would probably be more comfortable than some of the hard truths of the reservations of today, and those that choose to remain - but that's a post/photos for another day.  Today is for old traditions being passed, thankfully, to a younger generation - at least in one family, but I'm hoping this rings true for quite a few.
We spent a day at the Loveland Invitational Fine Arts Festival, outside of Denver, this past month. The arts committee had brought in the Tony Duncan family, from Mesa, Arizona, to entertain during a short period of the first morning.  Tony, and his three beautiful children, ranging in age from 6 to 2 - not only is dad (with Apache/Arikara/Hidasta tribal nation roots) an accomplished Native American Flute player, he is also a 5-time World Champion Hoop Dancer.  We were told that Mom, Violet Duncan (Plains Cree and Taino), an author and former Miss Indian World, was the one responsible for most of the beadwork seen that day.
She's already been a Tiny Tot Princess, several times over!  These are not everyday clothes, but typically reserved for ceremonial dances, such as the big Pow Wows (the family had spent the summer apart, attending events in Canada and the States).  The dress worn here is referred to as a Jingle Dress.  Originating with the Ojibwa tribes, and spreading through the Sioux nation and Plains tribes later, the tin cones on the dresses were originally fashioned from tobacco can lids.  The sound is enchanting.
Mom's brother hailed from Canada, and performed the fast-paced Men's Fancy Dance, based loosely on the War Dance.  During the 20's and 30's, many of the Native American dances were outlawed by the American and Canadian governments.  Many dances went underground to avoid detection, and eventually dances were reworked as to be danced legally in public.
The Kiowas and Comanches created new styles of dance regalia in the1930s, that included long-johns with bells attached to the knees, arm and back bustles, beadwork harnesses, feathers, streamers of horsehair, and a large porcupine hair roach atop the head.  This was all eventually incorporated into the Fancy Dance.
The Grass Dance was another Northern Plains Indian style of dance.  The dance wear generally has few feathers, as compared with the Fancy Dancers, but is plentiful with swaying fringes of yarn and ribbons.  Not as fast as the Fancy Dance, this is still "taxing" in its movements.  We were told this dancer was of the Arikara nation - gorgeous regalia including another beautiful roach atop his head, colorful applique work, and what appeared to be porcupine quill work on the dance moccasins. 
As someone who "dabbles" in sewing and the occasional beaded piece of jewelry, I can tell you the sheer amount of skill and time in these handmade pieces was mind boggling!  The breastplate on the upper right was all hand beaded by the dancer's sister (Violet), and I had to smile at the little guy's beaded Ninja Turtle medallion - infusing new with old.
Dad (Mom can be seen in the background) and the Hoop Dance - a storytelling of sorts, with the use of between 1 to 30 hoops, at any given time.  During the dance, shapes are formed for storytelling - eagle, snake, coyote, to name a few,  Fast-paced, with the dancer moving through or using the hoops as an extension of his body - Tony Duncan holds 5 World Championships, and is now passing his art down to his little ones.
Another beautiful example of Violet's mind-blowing beadwork craftsmanship, and Tony's prowess with the hoops.
Truly a modern-day family affair of time-worn traditions, most thankfully!
Which brings me to the youngest of the troupe - Manaya, Naiche, and little Nitanis.  Words cannot express the love on this stage - proud of a heritage, and carrying on the old ways through a new generation.  The oldest daughter poised beyond belief at 6 years old - performing dances completely by herself, as well as with her younger siblings.
It saddens me to see many of the old ways and traditions (crafting and ceremonial events included), being pushed aside due to progress and time, and a desire for moving ahead with "the new"...
THIS renewed a hope that all is not lost - carried on through the eyes and hearts of these little ones. Also, a pretty cool day at the park with Dad - I could never really master a Hula Hoop, and these little ones have it going on, and then some!  Carry on, Duncan Family - you're doing it COMPLETELY right!