"My Brother, Om’ahkokata (gopher)" and "iniskim (buffalo calling stones)"

My song is the gopher and I am my song.

My Brother, Om’ahkokata (gopher)

My song is the gopher and I am my song.

When I stand on my sentry
stone I see the place
you call home: the yellow fields,
the green hills beyond.

Each day at dusk we play
our underground peoples’
national sport:

The Crossing.

We gather where the grass meets
long-flat-rock. The surface
absorbs the day’s heat and in
the waning light warms our paws
and bellies.

Those who aren’t playing
come to watch. This is where
we prove ourselves.

The rules are simple:

scurry across long-flat-rock and
hope Bright Eyes doesn’t catch you.

During the frozen and slumbering
moons these are the days we
collectively dream about.

Who will prove their bravery?
Whose den will be emptier come fall?

In preparation we feast in the cool
burrows of our clay-bound metropolis.

When runners pass our dens we chirp
them courage songs and wish them
our common blessing: ‘may Bright Eyes
leave you spinning but unscathed.’ 

Spectators carry seeds and flowers.
Gifts for the victorious.
Offerings for the bereaved.

Today I bring my brother his
favourite post-Crossing snack.

Fresh dandelions and a wild rose.

He is the toughest among our clan
and he teases me that only the bravest
ground-swimmers deserve pink flowers.

No one makes me laugh like my
brother. He was born during
a summer of wildfire, when smoke
choked us from the plains and chased
us into the hills.

From the age of a pup he wheezed when
he spoke and wheezed when he laughed.

The night before he had stopped
at my den and asked if I’d join
him during his morning’s sentry.

I lied and told him I needed to pick
flowers for that evening’s celebrations.
When all I really wanted to do
was return to my dream of roots and
rumours of the ocean below.

Timing. He says the greatest crossers
aren’t fast, nor bold, nor nimble,
but they understand timing.

This is his secret. This is his gift.

From the age of pups we learn to speak
the ground’s common language.

Anticipation is the rumbling beneath our paws.

My brother waves to us before
dashing to the centre. He stands proud
and he stares Bright Eyes in the face.

She swoops over him and through
the loose grass and dust he remains.

Two more in quick succession.


The third staggers him. Dizzy, he
runs away from us and when the fourth
passes over he disappears.

“Brother!” I cry. My clan holds me
back. I swat them with my dandelion and
sprint into the center of long-flat-rock.

Suddenly there is thunder all around me.
A violent wind. I spin on my back, spared,

Standing tall as a sentry I search the gulley.

I call my brother’s name.
Louder. Again. Louder.

My clan chirps and whistles but
I cannot hear them. Only the steady
hum. A rumbling through my paws
and my heart is now a one-legged

“Timing!” someone wheezes from inside
the blowing sage. “Timing!”

I look up. Bright Eyes barrels
down. I crouch.



I sing my clan’s name and I run.

(buffalo calling stones)

we met on the road to the medicine wheel.
             from the hill-top our eyes searched in all directions.

we felt ourselves shrink. the rocks grew into
             boulders, into mountains. here
you became my brother. along the cliffs
             and near the river we heard our iniskim
crying, sharp, like a distant redtail on
             the hunt, guiding us to our treasure.

we pried them from out the dirt and clay,
             weighing them in our palms,
gently, as if cupping a baby bird. with thumbs
             and spittle we cleaned them and we
listened to the story of the first iniskim:

there was a drought, a famine, a despairing
             band of families, rescued by a
woman and her divining stone, who together
             brought them to untouched herds.

now that everything has changed,
             and you are gone, to what feasts
will these calling stones bring us, what
             bounties will they sing us to next?

but this is one certainty among
             the unknown:
my mother is your grandmother,
             your everything. when she is
with me, she is also still with you.

always, because that is what grandmothers do.
             her arms are the medicine wheel's
spokes, reaching out, charting the sun, touching all.

her love, like the stones, teaches us about the Old People.

                                     They still exist.
                                                             we are loved.

                                                                                       you are not forgotten.

                                                     the old man of the mountain

you found him one day while gathering
plant specimens and medicine in the mountains.

a face made of stone: two
mouse squint eyes, a bulbous nose
and bannock-eating smile.

you left him shaded beneath a log
on the belly river’s shore.

a summer on fire: the smoke curtained the
mountains and ushered me to your open door,
like a bull to the soul’s piskun (bison pound).

here at the backbone of the world you
explained where kutoyis (alpine fir) grew,
its loose needles in our pockets a shield
against lightning strikes.

then you told me the story about fireweed:
the lone woman who rescued her lover
from an enemies’ camp. a midnight raid.

the woman whose footsteps left a
trail of fire and purple stars
across the dry plains.

on my last day Home we searched the
icy headwaters for the old man’s
organs. pipestone lungs and stomach.
a granite heart and shale liver.

together we gifted him arms and legs.
and buried them in the sand.
now he breathes and now he eats.

listen to the water. do you hear the drums?
watch him crawl. Watch him dance.

he is alive and he is waiting for next
spring when we return to the belly’s
welcoming shores.

About the author

Henry Heavyshield (he/him) is a Blackfoot reader and writer from the Blood Tribe first nation (Kainai) currently living in Treaty #7 territory. His work has previously appeared in Joyland, C Magazine, Kimiwan Zine as well as in an anthology of Indigenous writing with Annick Press. He has also been shortlisted for an Indigenous Voices Award for unpublished prose and was selected as a participant in Audible's 2023 Indigenous Writing Circle. You can find him on Instagram @h.heavyshield. He would like to thank the continued support and generosity of his family. nitsíniiyi'taki (thank-you)