By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The two women being honored at this week's Mid-Winter Fair at Fort Belknap don't know each other well but they have a lot in common.
Theresa Walker Lamebull and Mabel Snell, at age 97, are both the oldest members of their respective tribes. Each woman is among the few remaining fluent speakers of their native languages.
A banquet was held at the Red Whip Center at Fort Belknap on Wednesday to honor Lamebull, a member of the Gros Ventre Tribe, and Snell, who is an Assiniboine. Both will be a focus of attention as fair events continue through this weekend, ending with a powwow on Saturday night.
Lamebull has lived in Hays nearly all her life. She spent much of her time raising children and, after they grew up, teaching the Gros Ventre language to grade school and college students.
Her efforts have helped to keep the language from dying. One of her former language students recently began teaching one of Lamebull's grandsons the Gros Ventre language, her daughter, Kathy Cichosz, said.
One of Lamebull's fondest memories is of the old Hays fair. When she thinks about it now, she still smiles and laughs. At the fair, children would race horses and play games and there were funny contests, including an ugly contest, she said.
"We used to really have good times," she said.
Lamebull has enjoyed quilting and cooking throughout her life. Though her daughter prepares most of her meals now, Lamebull still makes her own native dishes, including boiled meat soups and dried meats and berries.
For years she put those skills to use while raising her family. She canned meats and berries for food in the winter while her husband worked their ranch, Cichosz said.
While Lamebull has kept up with her handiwork, what she misses, she said, is the way people used to visit one another more often. Guests arrived unannounced nearly every day, she said. Now people wait for invitations.
Until recently, Lamebull could speak with other friends in their language and visit the way they used to, but her last Gros Ventre-speaking friend died recently, Cichosz said.
Snell also fondly remembers the fair, particularly the nighttime dances. She also remembers the food.
"Come and get it while it's hot, pickle on top," she said the children were told. Snell laughed again as she spoke the words.
At the time, she said, she hardly knew that cars existed. Cars have brought the biggest change to the reservation, she said.
Snell, who grew up near Lodge Pole, said that traveling between the reservation towns of Hays and Lodge Pole took two days in a covered wagon. She recalls making the trip to Chinook as well, where she and her family would go to collect cow intestines and other organs discarded by a butcher.
She and her siblings and friends would blow air into the intestines or lungs and then bake them. Making a bitter face, she said she could still recall the taste that process left in her mouth, but she also laughed at the memory.
Snell continued drying meat for friends until recently and she still quilts, a lifelong hobby, she said.
She made a joke about her current quilting, adding that she has to stop whenever the thread drops out of the needle because she can't rethread it on her own. She has taken that kind of obstacle in stride. She said she simply waits for someone to come along and rethread her needle for her, and then continues along.
Snell described her sewing machine as a mechanical, foot pedal-powered type.
"I'd rather do that than use the electric kind," she said.
Snell raised six sons, three of whom live near her on the reservation.