As the dust settles on the great dry-land plains and the sun rises above the colossal mountain ranges, the beauty of Montana is clear to see. Home to lakes, rivers, mountains, and Great Plains, this north western US state is a picturesque natural reservoir for wildlife and the Montana population.
For one community, this infamous landscape is more than beautiful scenery; it has become ingrained in the fabric of their history and way of life. Deep within the Montana terrain, around the base of the sacred Bighorn Mountains, lies the Apsaalooke nation. Also known as Crow Nation, this American Indian reservation stretches over 2 million acres.
The Crow tribe have Montana ancestors stretching back to 1851 when the Crow Nation was originally three different tribes brought together through a treaty of friendship and named as ‘Children of the large beaked bird‘ or Apsaalooke in their own Siouan language. Today’s Crow tribe has over 13,000 members, with 85% of the population speaking Crow as their first language, this American Indian nation place importance in honouring the traditions of their ancestors.
One such tradition is still alive and honoured this week of August. In the sloping hills surrounding Little Bighorn River, over 1,200 teepee’s stand in what has been unofficially named ‘the teepee capital of the world’. The Crow fair and rodeo has become one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in the US. In Crow Agency, Montana, hosted by the Crow tribe, this festival of art and culture celebrates many aspects of the Native American way of life.
From craft competitions, nightly pow wows, infamous rodeos and heart stopping horse relays, this Crow fair and rodeo displays the talent, skill and history of this great nation. In 1904 the Crow Indian leaders organised a gathering of the 6 Crow reservation districts to perform in the arts of their culture, inviting along other tribes to participate. It is this gathering that the modern day American Indians honour today.
In the morning sunrise a parade begins, led by the colour guard, consisting of veteran and acting members of the armed services, the people of the Crow Nation dress in traditional Native dress, displaying the traditional; bead work, buckskin and leather work that is customarily made by many of the participating families. Competitions are held for best traditional head dress, the most extravagant bead work and old-time saddles.
However any Native American celebration’s highlight, is the adrenaline pumping rodeo and horse racing. The Crow rodeo is a chance for both traditional and new generations of Native Americans to demonstrate their skill and talent in this nail-biting sport. American Indians have a special relationship with horses, as their way of life dictates, so it should be easy to understand how sports such as the horse relay exist.
This sport is bursting into the spotlight for its dangerous nature and the jockey’s unwavering courage both clearly on display. Involving three laps of the oval track on a horse bareback, the jockey must then travel from horse to horse while still in motion. Leaping to the ground, the running jockey then climbs onto the back of the next horse and continues the relay. Believed to be essentially carried on from the warrior days of old, when they would trespass adversary camps and make off with their horses.
Each night after the adrenaline and excitement of the horse competitions is finished, the pow wow begins. Through traditional singing in the native Siouan language, the different tribal dance styles are demonstrated wearing the bright colours of each tribe, providing the beauty of all the nations in attendance.
The Crow fair and rodeo is described as ‘the great family reunion under the big sky’. The Native Americans of the Crow tribe of Montana believe that anyone who enters their land leaves a friend. The Crow tribe demonstrate the importance of honouring the past, appreciating differences and celebrating the life they have been given. They are inspirational in their welcoming nature and with this festival, provide a glimpse into the fascinating life and culture they live.
Why is it important to honour the traditions of our ancestors?