“These treasures of the wild flowers are ours ... such treasures that the horticultural societies of Europe a century ago sent out to the wild west to gather roots and seeds. These men risked their lives and suffered all the hardships not for furs and gold, but in search of flowers...”
“Saskatoon – symbol of the spring time and plenty. What would the prairie west be without the Saskatoon – the shrub whose blossoms whiten the spring hillsides and whose berries hang heavy in the summer woods?
“When the earliest of the lone adventurers of rival fur companies shared the perils of an unexplored west, proving at last to a sceptical world that great stretches of prairie really did exist beyond the wooded shores of the eastern lakes and rivers, the Saskatoon first found its way to the printed page.
“David Thompson is one of the first writers to mention it. ‘The misaskutum berry’ he writes, ‘perhaps peculiar to North America, grows abundantly on willow-like shrubs. It is very sweet and nourishing, the favorite food for small birds and bears. It may safely be eaten as long as the appetite continues. The wood is of fine size for arrows, and where this can be got no other is employed. This is weighty, pliant, non-elastic. This berry is as rich as any current from Smyrna, and keeps as well. It should be cultivated in England and Canada.’
"Both blossom and berry have been long accustomed to symbolic rules. One of the most beautiful of simple ceremonies is the holding aloft to the sun of a branch of the Saskatoon, and then burying it in the earth as thanks for the bounty of the earth.
“The Sun-Dance – the most important celebration of the year – was held by the Indians in July when the berries were ripe. They were used on the sacred altar, signifying the manifold gifts of the earth as we use wheat in our thanksgiving altars, and in many other ways during the week of celebration.
“In the tobacco planting ceremony of the Blackfoot is beautiful ceremony as full of mystery as a Chinese painting. The Saskatoon blossom was used to symbolize spring. The sacred vessel which was later to carry the previous herbs to the planting ground was filled with the blossoms of the Saskatoon and the buffalo flower. Flowering branches of saskatoons were tied to poles inside the chief’s lodge where much of the ceremonies took place. Dry sticks were brought in to represent little human beings and the dance which was to follow. In the dance each person held a branch of saskatoon blossom, making sweeping motions on the ground with the blossoms to instill in the images the spirit of the earth. After dancing thus four times, they stood and beat time with the branches instead of the rattles usually used in such ceremonies. Images and branches were then taken and hidden near plot where the tobacco was planted. Blossoming branches were also strewed on the way to the hiding place.”
(These notes were recorded in the Lethbridge Herald, May 12, 1939)
17 - From Annora Brown’s Lecture Notes: the Saskatoon – Joyce Sasse
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Picture courtesy of Mary-Beth Laviolette
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Digitized photographs of 260 Annora Brown paintings in the Glenbow Museum (wild flowers, Blackfoot culture & art, landscapes in the Oldman and Waterton River drainage area) can be viewed at:
Mountain Shooting Star 58.45.23 - Collection of Glenbow
Used with permission of Annora Brown Estate