July 22, 1936. It was one of those hot summer nights. The kind of nights where you’ll get soaked with sweat, unable to sleep. Dogs barked and howled all night long. We always knew that meant bad news was coming. That morning, Asooniaiki passed away.Read Raiden Bastien's Assoniaki
Oki! My name is Raiden Bastien. I am 15 years old and in Grade 10 at F.P.Walshe high school in Fort Macleod. AB. I am a member of Piikani Nation apart of Treaty 7. I am from Blackfoot and Cree descent.
Today I dream Big and try hard in school. Someday, I will be Dr. Raiden Bastien in honor of my Grandfather and all those who have passed away before him.
The story entitled “Asooniakii” was told to me by my Great Grandfather Jack Bastien (spiikuan). He recently passed away at the age of 88 he said he was much older but wasn’t sure how much because his birthday was legally declared when he was baptized on November 19, 1923, by the priests and nuns at the residential school he was attending at the time. He was a hard worker, a WWII Veteran and a spiritual man who always said, “giving is my religion” as he was generous; and despite all hardships spoke fluent Blackfoot.
The story is one of many my Great Grandfather told me. I chose it because it was the one that had the most impact on me culturally. I think that burial is a personal choice. Today people can choose to be buried or cremated. I don’t think it’s fair that people are allowed to come along and change the spirituality of groups, such as First Nations people. Long before the arrival of the Europeans we had our ways and they obviously worked for us. I hope that someday our people restore our burial rights and a lot of other things that were taken away from us.
I hope that you enjoy this story as much as I do.
July 22, 1936. It was one of those hot summer nights. The kind of nights where you’ll get soaked with sweat, unable to sleep. Dogs barked and howled all night long. We always knew that meant bad news was coming. That morning, Asooniaiki passed away.
Asooniaiki raised me from the age of 7. My parents and siblings had died when struck at West Crossing in Brocket, Alberta. From then on Asooniaiki and the old people raised me. She was old herself, one of the, oldest living Piikani members. She was a wise and spiritual woman. She knew songs, ceremonies, and stones. She taught me how to live off the land, but most importantly “Respect” for all things. I already missed her so much.
Word spread fast of Asooniaiki’s death. The people started arriving at the house by noon with food, tobacco and other offerings. The other Elders knew that Asooniaiki wanted a traditional funeral. They quickly gathered for a meeting and decided that they would respect her wishes, no matter what the consequences.
You see, since the beginning of time the Blackfoot people’s funerals were known as Iikiitsoona. This is what we did when out people passed on in the Bloody Valley. There is a spot off the river valley where we lay deceased high above the ground on a scaffold with offerings of food and water by their side. Some of their most cherished belongings. We would have a ceremony, a song and dance, and finally a huge feast would follow; for we believed that the body needed a second chance, chance to once again breathe the fresh air of life. We believed that the body would heal even after death. When that happened they would have food and water to replenish their body. If they were truly dead then there was nothing between them and Creator, nothing but open blue sky. It is then that Creator will come for the soul and Mother Earth will come for the body. The skin and bones return to the soil, and the blood to the water. Just as the creator intended.
It wasn’t until the arrival of Europeans, when my people were placed on designated “reserves,” that the new laws were made. the laws were enforced by the R.C.M.P officers and Indian agents. Laws that said we were no longer allowed to lay our people to rest “iikiitsoona,” the way we always had thousands of years before. They assumed it was “uncivilized”. Life was no longer given a second chance. Bodies were taken to the morgue and the embalming process was done. Then they were placed in a wooden box, it was nailed shut and lowered into a hole 6 feet deep. To be covered with earth. 6 feet of soil now came between the deceased and the Creator. Suddenly, soaring high with the eagle seemed unlikely. Our tradition was outlawed by the new visitors to our land.
But not on this day. This day, Asooniaki had it her way one last time. The sound of the drum beat; I can still hear in my ears and feel in my heart. The words of the honor song are so clear to this day. The sorrow and joy of all the people in the air. The unity and love we all had for each other was obvious as we feasted on the deer, fry bread and berry soup. That night, we camped down by the river, most of us falling asleep around the campfire. On our way home the next morning, we were ambushed by the R.C.M.P. who were waiting on top of the hill for us. Most of the adults were whipped with cow whips and we were herded back to the village where we were questioned as to why we were down there. No one spoke a word. We all said no matter what the consequence, we will do what Assooniaki wanted. So we stood our ground and took our beatings and punishment, and still we never spoke of what happened that day. Asooniaki was the last one laid to rest in “Bloody Valley” on The Piikani Nation Reserve.
The elders had a ceremony for me a week later. I got my face painted. They told me I would live to be an old man with silver hair and would skip death many times in my life.
The next day the Indian Agent and truant officer brought me to residential school. That is a whole other chapter….
Assooniaki – This name is so old in the Blackfoot Language that today cannot be properly interpreted into English. Some will say it means “Cut Bank Woman” but that is the general interpretation.
Spiikuan – Means “Spanish Man” it is my Grandfathers Blackfoot name.
Iikitsoona – Is what we called our burial ceremony.