Rock Art: Library Program

Abstract:

Create your own take home salt-dough rock art with this library program. This video will explain how rock art connects to Indigenous Spirituality. Participants will learn about the place of rock art in a historical and global perspective then bring it closer to home with reference to the land by hearing about UNESCO World Heritage site Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi Provincial Park. The video shows how to make a simple salt dough while voicing a historical event and a personal story. Participants in the program will hear about the Bird Rattle Petroglyphs and see proof that rock art isn’t just made by cultures long gone. Participants will be shown a dictionary of Blackfoot Confederacy symbols as well as symbols used by contemporary artist Adrian Stimson. Participants will then make and share a record of a personal event using tools provided and salt dough, with inspiration from symbols both historical and contemporary.

Video Presentation:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZtygPWJBKlRiTW3z0pLVAQKuDjkrwvzX/view?usp=share_link

Slide Deck:

Video Script:

Oki and welcome. Oki is a Blackfoot greeting, meaning hello.

This video is going to talk about Rock Art.

It’s an archaeology term for any human-made markings put on natural stone. You can find rock art sites on almost all continents. UNESCO has almost 50 on their world heritage list. (Bradshaw) We can see the work of ancient people who created rock art because it doesn’t degrade as quickly over time, like wood, or hide or other materials. But rock art is not immortal. It’s vulnerable to wind, weather, vandalism (UNESCO, n.d.) and greed (Holloway).

This video will specifically reference the rock art at Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi Provincial Park, which is one of the places recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (UNESCO, 2019). Áísínai’pi is a Blackfoot word meaning it is pictured (USAY, 2020). This area has one of the largest collections of rock art on the continent, and continues today to be a site for Ceremonies and other Indigenous Cultural Traditions. Visitors walking the Hoodoo Trail can tangibly feel they are visiting a sacred site. (Alberta Parks, 2021)

I want to tell you about The Bird Rattle petroglyphs as outlined by Klassen et al. (2000). Bird Rattle was a Piegan Elder. He spent his youth in and around the area that is now known as Southern Alberta and Northern Montana. He is part of The Blackfoot Confederacy, which is not bound by the current political borders; it stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Sand Hills, spread over the southern half of what is known as Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada and the northern part of Montana in the United States (Dempsey, 2010).

Bird Rattle’s journey was written down by a white man, who was a trained engineer not an ethnographer and he was not Indigenous. His papers, documents, photographs and oral history are the reason we know this story, along with contemporary researchers Klassen et al. (2000) and some serendipity.

The story told by Klassen et al. goes like this: in the fall of 1924 Bird Rattle journeyed to the sacred place called Áísínai’pi or Writing-On-Stone. The party, consisting of two Blackfoot Elders and a handful of white men, was big enough to need two automobiles. They traveled from Montana all the way to the hoodoos near the Milk River. They made camp at the base of a cliff face.

Bird Rattle and his companion Split Ears looked at the Rock Art and explained that the pictures were ‘messages from the spirit world’. (Klassen et al., 193). That this place connects the physical world with the spirit one (USAY, 2020).

Bird Rattle was grateful for the opportunity to visit the sacred site and he sang and prayed in thanks. It was significant enough to warrant donning full regalia. Bird Rattle and Split Ears spent time looking at the pictures then left the party to climb a small butte to meditate and pray. 

The site was so spiritually important to Bird Rattle that he decided the trip should be recorded.

This story was told to me by Elder Saa’kokoto Randy Bottle from the Blood tribe, while he was giving a tour of Writing-On-Stone in 2022. Our tour group stood in front of a rock face that clearly depicted a car and Elder Saa’kokoto showed us the photograph of Bird Rattle marking the rock.

This image was long thought to be Euro-American graffiti and was typically omitted in records of the rock art in the area like the book published by the Archaeology Society of Alberta (1995) But the photograph clearly shows the cultural origin of this petroglyph.

Rock art is often thought of as something done in primitive times. It is often called prehistoric art. This is probably because a lot of it comes from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic times. It’s true that many of the cultures that created rock art are now gone. But not all of them.

Bird Rattle’s car rock art connects the tradition of marking the rocks with the modern period. Rock Art isn’t just something that happened a long, long time ago, rather it’s something that continues to recent times. Indigenous Peoples have produced rock art within living memory and other Indigenous individuals alive today are stewards for existing rock art. (Grabish, 2017b).

For this activity, imagine that you have been gifted the knowledge and permission to mark the rocks. You have the responsibility to document something significant. Think of an event that should be recorded. Consider who is part of that event, your family, your friends, the wider community? Do you want to capture a birth, maturing or death? Think about the relationships surrounding the event. Think about the land. Consider the impact of the event and how you interpret it and what you need to draw to communicate it.

You can take a few minutes to plan out what you want to draw that will capture everything that you think is important. What symbols can you use? 

The symbols used in Rock Art vary from place to place. This is a dictionary of pictures seen at Writing-On-Stone and their meaning (Rock Art Dictionary, n.d.). But you can use any symbol you want. Here is a contemporary example of symbols used by artist Adrian Stimson in his artwork (Stimson, 2019).

You can use the edges of the parchment paper to plan out the symbols you want to use, their size and their position.

Unwrap the dough and put it on the parchment paper. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a flat shape. Be careful not to let it get too thin. Use the tools to ‘draw’ on the dough, scoring the surface, just like the rock faces are scored. Different tools make different marks. You can try to see what marks they make, then roll your dough out again for the final project. Unlike rocks, salt dough can be re-done!

 When everyone is done, the group can form a sharing circle and people can tell the story behind their art.

Now I will tell you about the story I want to capture.

I wanted to record an important journey. My daughter, my mother and my grandmother and I took a trip out to the mountains. We went together in a car to visit Banff. It was a double celebration, the first thing we wanted to recognize was a recent accomplishment for my daughter. The other thing we were celebrating was my grandmother’s ninety fifth birthday. We drove out and had High Tea together at the Banff Springs hotel, just the four of us. It’s something that I will remember, having the four generations together surrounded by the mountains, the trees and the fresh air. Connecting our family continuity to the land and location.

Lia Rogers:

Lia Rogers is a practicing interdisciplinary artist concentrating on sculptural works, interactive installations, software and online interventions. She started out as a production potter, making vessels to put herself through a BFA in sculpture at the University of Calgary which is located in Moh’kinsstis also known as Calgary, Alberta. During her studies she discovered media art and computers. She went on to get a BSc. degree in Computer Science. She has spent time working at the Banff Center and for the Integrated Arts Media Lab. Previously she has been a member of EMMEDIA’s Board of Directors. She is the Calgary Dorkbot overlord and her work has been exhibited all over Canada. She is currently working as a software developer and project manager while pursuing her Masters in Library and Information Studies

Acknowledgements:

Personal

Elder Saa’kokoto Randy Bottle for his wisdom and generosity and his snake scaring stick.

Mookakin Society for their exhibit in the visitor center and their dictionary.

Writing-On-Stone / Áísínai’pi Visitor Staff Rebecca Wilde for her help and advice.

Professor Tanya Ball for her time and energy.

The Smithsonian.

My fellow students for their time and constructive comments.

Location

I want to acknowledge the sacred land of Áísínai’pi, the living cultural landscape of the Niitsítapi and home to the Sacred Beings that live in the sandstone.

Land

I would like to acknowledge the traditional territories of the peoples of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Tsuut’ina Nation, Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations; and the Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes the Siksika, the Piikani, and the Kainai First Nations. In addition, the place now known as Calgary and Southern Alberta is home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work and create in this territory. We are all treaty people.

Image credits (in order of appearance):

Áísínai’pi – Alberta Parks

Ciaruteun – Wie146

Dabous – Bradshaw Foundation

Aberlemno – Lia Rogers

Áísínai’pi detail – Lia Rogers

Ngātoro-i-rangi – Unknown

Lascaux – Prof saxx

Cave of Hands – Mariano

Ubirr – Venture North

Nightmare Rock – California Curiosities

Grassi Lakes – Tyler Dixon

Bird Rattle – Roland Willcomb

Car petroglyph detail – Lia Rogers

Averbury – Lia Rogers

Bannock Point – Rob Swystun

Circulus Luna – Jon Foreman

Bunji – Andrew Arch

Calgary – Chris Sullivan

Dictionary – Lia Rogers

2019 Calgary & Alberta Past, Present, Future Count – Adrian Stimson

Hoodoos – Lia Rogers

Music Credits:

Out The Door by Moby, courtesy of https://mobygratis.com

Out The Door without Drums by Moby, courtesy of https://mobygratis.com

References:

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