THE BLACKFEET INDIANS PREDICT THE RETURN OF ‘MANY GLACIERS’ TO GLACIER PARK
By Climatologist Cliff Harris
For much of the time between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, I was the Chief Meteorologist at KCFW-TV in Kalispell, Montana. I likewise wrote a weekly weather column called, “Eye in the Big Sky” for the Whitefish Pilot, now a Hagadone newspaper, from 1971 through 1987. I loved my days in the Treasure State, but my heart is here in ‘Camelot.’ KCFW was the smallest full-time broadcasting NBC station in the country 40 years ago. I drew my own weather maps three times each day with yellow grease pencils. I worked from early morning to late at night and loved every minute of it. I had ‘energy to burn’ in those days.
Besides selling television ads to pay for my $800-a-month salary, I hosted the noontime program each day called, “The High Neighbor Show.” I interviewed and entertained many celebrities and local personalities that visited the Flathead Valley’s only local television station. I was a ‘big fish’ in a small pond. (Yes, I did enjoy signing autographs and visiting schools and service clubs on a regular basis. But, that was ‘then’ and this ‘now.’)
One day in 1971, I had the distinct privilege of interviewing several members of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe from Browning, Montana for a ‘POW WOW’ of sorts. They told our viewers that their tribe was once wealthy from trading furs up and down the eastern slopes of the Rockies into the Great Plains. But, their profitable nomadic culture was destroyed when most of the buffalo and other animals were “wiped out by the white man.” They showed us some elaborate dances and rituals, including the ‘sun dance’ and the well-known ‘vision quest.’
They also talked a lot about wide weather ‘extremes’ over the past 2,000 years since the tribe migrated from northeastern Asia to North America across an Arctic ‘ice bridge’ (or ‘land bridge,’ as some have said) during much colder and drier times about 1,000 years prior to a warmer and wetter global climate enjoyed later by the mighty Vikings in once verdant Greenland. The Blackfeet said that they got their name from “traveling through forest and brushfires common across the western Great Plains and the northern Rockies.”
They said that the last ‘BIG FIRES’ in the ‘Land of the Shining Mountains’ were back in 1910, almost a century ago. They blackened much of northeastern Washington State, northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. In many places, the ‘scars’ still remain. The tribe’s historian (storyteller), I believe that his name was “Yellow Bear,” told us that the glaciers have both ‘advanced’ in Glacier National Park and ‘retreated’ literally dozens of times in the past couple of millennia, often within an individual chief’s lifetime (70 to 80 years).
Yellow Bear said that the glaciers in the park nearly ‘vanished’ 1,000 years ago during an extremely warm period with very little snow. The ‘peak’ of the number and size of the glaciers occurred during the 40-year period from 1710-1750 towards the end of the last ‘Maunder Minimum’ global cycle of cooling, a 70-year span almost completely devoid of sunspot activity that occurred from 1645 to 1715.
Some, including this climatologist, believe that we may be moving into a new Maunder Minimum climate phase. As I mentioned last week, the glaciers in Alaska and Norway are already advancing. Glacier Park may one day soon be seeing the return of “MANY GLACIERS,” as the Blackfeet predicted four decades ago. Only time will tell.