The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Friday, July 6, 2012


This is a cautionary tale, a warning for you not to be as stupid as I was. Once upon a time, Carla and Martin drove north to Montana to visit their son, who lives on the border...

Since Jeremy drives a pickup and my Subaru Forester was more comfortable, we went into Alberta, visiting Waterton Park one day, and then Crowsnest Pass (western Alberta) another. Fascinating place, with a great museum telling about the disaster at Frank, where in 1903, the face of a mountain slid down and buried part of a little town in the valley. Quite a story.

The next day, we decided to go to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. This pishkun (buffao jump) shows evidence of use for 5,000 years. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, and another great place to visit.

We're lucky we got to see it, because yours truly was stopped by a roadblock on the Kainai Blackfoot Reserve just north of Cardston. A simple matter, really. We were stopped, along with everyone else, and asked to show proof of insurance. My son, Jeremy, says that's a common procedure on reservations on both sides of the border, done in an effort to stop people from driving "rez rockets," cars with no insurance or current license.

No sweat. My son was driving my car and I was sitting shotgun. I opened my glove compartment and pulled out  my proof of insurance card. Uh, one problem: I didn't have my current one in my car. Doh!  I hunted deeper and deeper through the layers of other insurance cards, expired now, eventually getting down to the one on a clay tablet, but could I find the current one? Nope. Zip. Nada.

"Pull over here," the policeman said. He was a big, hulking member of the tribe (Blackfoot tend to be impressive). We discussed the matter. He wasn't about to let me go on, and he was completely right. Using my smart phone, I called my insurance agency in Price, Utah, and they said they could e-mail me proof of insurance. We waited and waited, and nothing came through on my phone. The cop came back several times, and all I could do was shake my head. And wait some more. Nothing. Finally, I called the agency back and gave the cop the phone, but what could he do? All he heard was someone on the other end of the line, assuring him I had insurance. My son took the phone and told them to fax the paper to his office, on the other side of the border.

So there we were. It was probably obvious to the policeman that I did have insurance, but no actual proof. Jeremy told me later that he certainly could have given me a fine, but probably not sent us packing back across the border. Jeremy's a Border Patrol agent and he knows the US rules, but he wasn't entirely sure about the Blackfoot Confederacy rules.

We were there at least a half hour, maybe more. I'm feeling completely stupid, and rightly so. Finally, the policeman came back and told me, "I'll let you go on. You might be stopped at another roadblock farther on. If you are, this conversation you and I are having never took place. Right?"

"Right," I assured him. "I've already forgotten it." He waved us on our merry way, and we did get to see the Head Smashed In pishkun. No more roadblocks.

When we finally returned to the American side, Jeremy got the fax from his office and I put that in my glove compartment. The e-mail never came through to the Canadian side, even though I could access it on the U.S. side when we returned. I dunno. Maybe my smart phone wasn't so smart. More likely, I just didn't know what to do.

So I owe a real thanks to that nice cop on the Kainai Reserve, who could have given me a ticket, but didn't. He taught me a valuable lesson. Wish I could send him a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I've spent a nice historian's career in recent years (when I worked at Fort Union Trading Post NHS) studying the Blackfeet Nation. They were among the fiercest of tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered, and spent a lot of years giving fits to moutain men and fur traders, and rightly so. It was their land, after all.  All I found was kindness. 

Thanks, Mr. Kainai Policeman. Just so you know, sir, I have a new insurance card and it's right where it should be, in my glove compartment. I'v tossed out all the expired ones, incuding the one on a clay tablet, which I'll probably give to the British Museum...

No comments:

Post a Comment