the idea

In centuries past The Neutral Hills were where members of the Cree and Blackfoot nations came to hunt for buffalo, deer, and other wild game, putting aside their differences and their weapons, at least so far as the other tribe was concerned. This range of hills — glacial moraine in east central Alberta and western Saskatchewan — was shared hunting ground and declared neutral, thus the name: The Neutral Hills. Both tribes hunted here in season, made their homes, raised their families, camped mostly apart but sometimes together, and, most importantly, they told stories. Oral history was passed from one generation to the next, sometimes for learning, sometimes for entertainment, sometimes for spiritual reasons. The stories never changed, except for when they did.

The Cree and the Blackfoot are long gone from The Neutrals, and have been for well over a century. Unfortunately, when a people disappears their history does as well. The impassioned talks, the eloquence, the improvisation by the light and smoke of a fire, all gone. I can get a fleeting sense of it when I’m walking through these magical hills with my cameras, but nothing more. I’ve scrabbled through libraries and around the Internet looking for what scraps remain. Some text here, a Web page there. Nothing that does justice to those who walked The Neutrals before us, however. All that’s really left is the name of the region.

I want to reconnect this area with its history. I want to carry past narrative traditions into the present. I want to tell stories and help other people tell theirs. I want to invite as many people as possible to come here, experience the stories and magic, and to take what they can back home to share with others. This is a tall order for someone who is not much of a story teller. I’m a photographer and I’m used to speaking through images. Words, not so much. Oral tradition? Isn’t exactly my strong suit, at least, not at this moment in time.

In years past a good story was judged not only on the passion and eloquence of the person telling it, but also their improvisation to suit the circumstances. There are new ways of telling stories that did not exist for the Blackfoot and Cree and I intend to use them. I will not only find the legends of the past, but will also round up stories of the present. The people, the places, the short stories and the considered chronicles of those who inherited The Neutrals from the departed hunters and their families. You can’t have a good story if you don’t work the audience in somehow.

I promise that all tales will be absolutely true, except for those that aren’t, and none of the original stories will be changed, except for when they are.

— Sean McCormick, March 10, 2012