Nearly 70 people listened appreciatively to the smooth, sweet sounds of a fiddle and a guitar drifting up through the trees. It was a fitting close to a National Public Lands Day event at the Ear Mountain interpretive site along the rugged Rocky Mountain Front 25 miles west of Choteau.
The July 31 gathering began with a few maintenance projects before moving on to the day’s biggest attraction: the dedication of a newly installed interpretive panel about the Métis (“MAY-tee” or “may-TEE”) Indians.
The Métis, a distinctive group of mixed blood French/Scottish and Indian people, evolved during the 17th century French/Canadian fur trade era. Their ancestral homeland -- then known as “Rupert’s Land”– was a large area which drains into Hudson Bay, including what is now known as the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota.
In the 1870s, many of the Métis moved into Montana due to conflicts with European and Canadian immigrants, and eventually made their homes in some of the secluded canyons along the Rocky Mountain Front. Until about 1920, there was a thriving Métis village near the Ear Mountain site.
Rod Sanders, outdoor recreation planner for the Lewistown Field Office, researched information for the new panel. Several people contributed to and reviewed his work, including Christi Belcourt, an Ontario, Canada, Métis artist whose work is featured on the state-of-the-art (high pressure laminate) sign. Historical photographs were provided by the Louis Riel Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba. John Lemieux from the BLM National Sign Center in Rawlins, Wyo., designed the layout of the panel with guidance from Rod Sanders and MSO’s interpretive specialist, Ruth Miller. The result is an attractive, informative synopsis of the Métis culture.
The dedication ceremony included remarks from Willy Frank, Lewistown Assistant Field Manager; Richard Hopkins, manager of the First Peoples Buffalo Jump near Great Falls and BLM Great Falls Field Station Manager when the trail and kiosk were constructed; Al Wiseman, a Métis descendant who lives nearby; and Rod Sanders. Jim Fox and son Vince of Harlem closed the ceremony with traditional Métis music on the guitar and fiddle.
Several others also deserve credit, including Zane Fulbright, Lewistown FO archeologist, for securing the funding for the new panel; and Sandra Padilla for organizing the NPLD project itself. Other Lewistown BLM contributors were Stan Benes, Mona Driskell, Benjamin Miller, Lori Montgomery, and Abel Guevara.