We Found What We Were Looking For
As told by Bert Tallman
I fondly remember my life as a young boy on the Blood Reserve, a Native community that is part of the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta, Canada. We lived not far from the Canadian Rockies and beautiful Lake Louise.
I COME from a family of seven boys and two girls. My brothers and sisters and I were often at my grandmother’s home. She worked hard and taught us the traditional way of life practiced by many generations of Blackfoot people before us. We learned how to gather wild berries, prepare traditional foods, and plant a garden. My grandfather and my father used to take me hunting and fishing. We hunted elk, deer, and moose for food and for their skins. Our parents were hard workers and did their best to provide a good home for us. My life on the reserve was enjoyable.
Everything changed, however, when my grandmother died in 1963. As a five-year-old boy, I was confused by this event. Nothing I heard brought me any real comfort. Even at that young age, I asked myself, ‘If there is a Creator, where is he? Why do people die?’ Sometimes I would begin to whimper in frustration. When my parents asked me what was wrong, I simply told them I had an ache of some sort.
Contact With White People
Before my grandmother died, we had little contact with white people. Whenever we did see them, I would hear comments such as: “He is just another evil, greedy white man, devoid of emotion. They are not real people.” I was warned that very few white people are genuine and that they could not be trusted. Although I was curious about meeting them, I remained cautious because white people in our area often made fun of us and made disparaging remarks.
Soon after my grandmother passed away, my parents began to abuse alcohol, making those years some of the saddest of my life. When I was eight years old, two Mormons began to visit our home. They seemed to be good people. My parents agreed with their proposal that I participate in a placement program. The program, as I understood it, was to change Native children by having them live with white people. Evidently, because of their circumstances, my parents thought it was best for me to stay with another family. I was shocked and disappointed, for I had heard my parents say that white people could not be trusted. I didn’t want to go, and I tried to get out of it. Finally, I agreed when my parents assured me that my older brother would come along.
However, when we arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, my brother and I were separated, and I was taken some 60 miles [100 km] away! I was devastated. Although the family that hosted me were good people, it was a traumatic experience, and I was terrified. I returned home about ten months later.
Back Home With My Parents
Even though the situation at home had not changed much, I was glad to be back. When I was about 12 years old, my parents quit using alcohol. That was a relief, but I already had a negative lifestyle of my own, since I had begun experimenting with drugs and alcohol. My parents encouraged me to take up alternative activities, including rodeo, something I really enjoyed. Rodeo riding was not for the fainthearted. I learned to ride wild bucking bulls for a minimum of eight seconds without being thrown off, while holding on with just one hand to a rope looped around the bull’s belly.
When I was a teenager, tribal elders introduced me to Native religion. I took a real interest in it, since I had little respect for the so-called white man’s religions. I reasoned that Blackfoot customs seemed to promote the kindness and justice that were missing from many “Christian” religions. I was comfortable among Native people, enjoying the humor and closeness that existed among families and friends.
About this time, I also learned about the injustices that Native people had experienced for centuries. I was told that the white man had spread disease among us and eradicated our primary means of life, the buffalo. In fact, Colonel R. I. Dodge, of the U.S. Army, is reported to have said: “Kill every buffalo you can. Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” This attitude, I learned, demoralized the Blackfoot people and led to a feeling of helplessness.
Furthermore, some government leaders, along with their religious allies, had made determined efforts to assimilate and transform the Native people, whom they viewed as savages. They believed that everything about the Native people needed to change—including their culture, beliefs, behavior, and language—in order for them to adapt to the white man’s ways. In Canada, some Native children were abused at religious residential schools. Others turned to substance abuse, violence, and suicide—problems that persist on reserves even to this day.
To escape these problems, some Natives decided to abandon Blackfoot culture. They chose to speak English to their children rather than the Blackfoot language, and they tried to adopt some of the white man’s ways. Instead of being accepted, however, many were ridiculed, not only by some in the white population but also by other Native people, who called them “apple Indians”—red on the outside but white on the inside.
It was sad to see Native people suffer in so many ways. I longed to see better conditions for the people on our reserve and others across Canada and the United States.
I Longed for Answers
As a teenager, I thought that I could never be accepted. My feelings of inferiority often turned into resentment. I even developed a hatred for white people. However, my parents and aunt cautioned me about harboring negative feelings of hate and revenge; instead, they encouraged me to show forgiveness and love and to overlook those who were prejudiced. I later learned that this advice was consistent with Bible principles. In addition, I still longed to find the answers to the questions that had plagued me as a child. I also began to wonder why we are on the earth and why injustice continues. Living for only a short time and then dying did not make sense to me. I was confused.
Whenever Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our home, I was sent to the door. I always respected them because they did not seem to be prejudiced. Although I found it difficult to formulate my questions in the right way, we always had interesting conversations. I recall one visit from John Brewster and Harry Callihoo, a Blackfoot Witness. We had a long discussion as we walked through the prairie grass. I obtained a book and read about half of it before it somehow got lost.
I Became a Rodeo Rider
I asked older ones on my reserve for advice. While I appreciated their well-thought-out counsel, I never received satisfactory answers to the questions I had about life. When I was about 16 years old, I left home and became absorbed in rodeo riding competitions. The parties I attended after rodeos usually featured overdrinking and drug abuse. My conscience plagued me because I knew such conduct was wrong and sensed that God did not approve of my lifestyle. I often prayed to the Creator for help to do what is right and to find answers to the questions that still bothered me.
In 1978, while I was in Calgary, I met a young Native woman named Rose. She was part Blackfoot and part Cree. We shared similar interests, and I could communicate openly and freely with her. We fell in love and were married in 1979. Our family grew to include our daughter Carma and our son, Jared. Rose has proved to be a loyal, supportive wife and a good mother. One day when my family and I were visiting my older brother, I found a book entitled You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth.* What I read intrigued me and seemed very reasonable. But just as I felt that I was beginning to understand the Bible’s message, I came to a part of the book where pages had been torn out. Rose and I made a determined effort to locate the missing pages, but without success. Even so, I continued to pray for help.
A Visit to the Priest
In the spring of 1984, Rose gave birth to our third child, our beautiful daughter Kayla. Only two months later, however, Kayla died from a congenital heart disease. We were devastated, and I did not know how to comfort Rose. She convinced me to go with her to the Catholic priest on our reserve to find comfort and answers to our questions.
We asked him why our little girl had to die and where she had gone. He told us that God took Kayla because he needed another angel. I thought, ‘Why would God need to take our daughter to be an angel if he is the Almighty Creator? What good would a helpless baby be?’ The priest never opened the Bible. We left feeling empty.
Prayer Was Our Mainstay
One Monday morning in late November 1984, I lingered in prayer, desperately begging God to help me to be a better person, to make sense of what was going on, and to understand the purpose of life. That very morning, Diana Bellemy and Karen Scott, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses, knocked at the door. They were very sincere and kind and were eager to present their message. I listened, accepted a Bible and the book entitled Survival Into a New Earth,* and agreed to have Diana return with her husband, Darryl, later that week.
Only after they left did it occur to me that this must have been the answer to my prayer. I was so excited that I eagerly paced back and forth in the house, waiting for Rose to return from work so I could tell her what had happened. To my surprise, Rose revealed that she too had been praying the night before, and she had asked God to help her to find the right religion. That Friday, we had our first Bible study. We later learned that the day Karen and Diana visited us, they had been unable to find the houses where they intended to preach. Nevertheless, when they saw our house, they felt motivated to call on us.
Answers to My Questions—At Last!
Our family and friends were puzzled and initially gave us the cold shoulder when we started to study the Bible. Then they pressured us by saying that we were throwing our lives away and not using our talents and abilities to the full. However, we resolved not to turn our backs on our newfound Friend, our Creator, Jehovah. After all, we had found something precious—the awesome truths and sacred secrets in God’s Word, the Bible. (Matthew 13:52) Both Rose and I were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in December 1985. Our relatives now have great respect for Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they have seen positive changes in our lives since our baptism.
Yes, I found what I was looking for! The Bible answers important questions simply and logically. I was satisfied when I learned the purpose of life, why we die, and God’s promise that we can be reunited with our daughter Kayla to see her grow up in perfect surroundings. (John 5:28, 29; Revelation 21:4) In time, I also learned that we should not abuse our bodies, show disrespect for life, or stir up competition. (Galatians 5:26) It was a difficult decision, but I chose to leave bull riding and the rodeo in order to please God.
Accurate knowledge from the Bible has freed us from superstitions that plague many Native people, such as belief that a visiting owl or a howling dog can lead to the death of a family member. We no longer fear that invisible spirits in animate creatures or inanimate objects will harm us. (Psalm 56:4; John 8:32) We now appreciate Jehovah’s marvelous creations. I have friends of many nationalities whom I call my brothers and sisters, and they accept us as equals and fellow servants of God. (Acts 10:34, 35) Many of them are putting forth effort to learn about our Native culture and beliefs and to speak the Blackfoot language so that they can effectively share the Bible’s message in an appealing way.
Our family lives on the Blood Reserve, in southern Alberta, where we have a small ranch. We still enjoy Native culture—including our traditional foods, music, and dance. We do not actively participate in traditional social dances, sometimes called powwows, but we enjoy watching them when appropriate. I have also tried to teach our children about their heritage and some of the Blackfoot language. Many Native people are known for the wonderful qualities of kindness, humility, and loving concern for family and friends. They are also known for showing hospitality and having respect for other people, including those from different backgrounds. I still appreciate and admire these things.
Our greatest happiness comes from using our time and resources to help others learn about and love Jehovah. Our son, Jared, serves as a volunteer at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses near Toronto. I have the privilege of serving as an elder in our local Macleod Congregation, and Rose, Carma, and I are all regular pioneers, or full-time evangelizers. It is a joy to preach in our native Blackfoot language. It is heartwarming to see others respond to the truth about the Creator and his purposes.
The Bible says about Jehovah: “If you search for him, he will let himself be found by you.” (1 Chronicles 28:9) I am grateful that he has fulfilled his promise by helping me, as well as my family, to find what we were looking for.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now out of print.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now out of print.
[Blurb on page 13]
‘If there is a Creator, where is he? Why do people die?’
[Blurb on page 16]
‘Many Native people are known for the qualities of kindness and humility’
[Picture on page 12]
My grandmother taught me traditional Blackfoot culture
[Picture on page 15]
I became completely absorbed in rodeo
[Picture on page 15]
The special tract “You Can Trust the Creator” is available in the Blackfoot language and others
[Picture on page 15]
I now have the joy of sharing Bible knowledge with others
[Picture on page 15]
Today, with my family