Hand color tinted photo of Red Wing an Apsaroke Crow Native American 1908
Red Wing was an Apsaroke Indian man. Photo shows him with streaks of white paint on his cheeks and hair, beaded buckskin shirt trimmed with ermine tails or white rabbit fur.
The Crow, also called the Absaroka or Apsáalooke, are a tribe of Native Americans who historically lived in the Yellowstone River valley and now live on a reservation south of Billings, Montana. Tribal headquarters are located at Crow Agency, Montana.
The name of the tribe, Apsáalooke (IPA: [əpsaːloːke]), was mistranslated by early interpreters as “people of [the] crows.” It actually means “children of the large-beaked bird,” a name given to them by their neighboring tribe, the Hidatsa. The bird, perhaps now extinct, was defined as a fork-tailed bird resembling the blue jay or magpie. The Absaroka first encountered Europeans in 1743, two Frenchmen (the La Verendryes brothers from Canada), near the present-day town of Hardin, Montana. These explorers called the Apsáalooke beaux hommes, “handsome men.” The Crow termed Europeans as baashchíile, “person with yellow eyes.”
Some have placed the early home of the Crow-Hidatsa ancestral tribe as being around the headwaters of the Mississippi River in either northern Minnesota or Wisconsin; others place them in Winnipeg area of Manitoba. Later they moved to the Devil’s Lake region of North Dakota before the Crow split from the Hidatsa and moved westward. Once established in Montana and Wyoming, the tribe was eventually divided into two: the Mountain Crow and River Crow.
The Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana is a large reservation covering 9,307,269 acres (approximately 14,543 square miles or 37,665 square kilometers) of land area, the fifth-largest Indian reservation in the United States. The reservation is primarily in Big Horn and Yellowstone counties with ceded lands in Rosebud, Carbon, and Treasure Counties. The Crow Indian Reservation’s eastern border is the 107th meridian line, except along the border line of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. The southern border is from the 107th meridian line west to the east bank of the Big Horn River. The line travels downstream to Big Horn National Recreation Area and west to the Pryor Mountains and north-easterly to Billings. The northern border travels east and near Hardin, Montana, to the 107th meridian line. The 2000 census reported a total population of 6,894 on reservation lands. Its largest community is Crow Agency.
Traditional Crow shelters are tipis made with bison skins and wooden poles. The Crow are historically known to construct some of the largest tipis. Inside the tipi, mattresses and buffalo-hide seats were arranged around the edge, with a fireplace in the center. The smoke from the fire escaped through a hole in the top of the tipi. Many Crow families still own and use the tipi, especially when traveling. Crow Fair has been described as the largest gathering of tipis in the world.
Traditional clothing the Crow wore depended on gender. Women tended to wear simple clothes. They wore dresses made of deer and buffalo skins, decorated with elk teeth. They covered their legs with leggings during winter and their feet with moccasins. Crow women wore their hair in two braids, unlike the men. Male clothing usually consisted of a shirt, trimmed leggings with a belt, a robe, and moccasins. Their hair was long, in some cases reaching or dragging the ground, and often had a pompadour.
The Crows’ main source of food was bison, but they also hunted mountain sheep, deer, and other game. Buffalo meat was often roasted or boiled in a stew with prairie turnips. The rump, tongue, liver, heart, and kidneys all were delicacies. Dried bison meat was often ground with fat and berries to make pemmican.
The Crow had more horses than any other plains tribe; in 1914 they numbered approximately thirty to forty thousand but by 1921 dwindled to just one thousand. They also had many dogs; one source counted five to six hundred. Unlike some other tribes, they did not consume dog. The Crow were a nomadic people.
The Crow were matrilineal (descent through the maternal line) and matrilocal (husband moves to the wife’s mothers house upon marriage). Women held a significant role within the tribe.
Crow kinship is a kinship system used to define family. Identified by Louis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, the Crow system is one of the six major kinship systems (Eskimo, Hawaiian, Iroquois, Crow, Omaha, and Sudanese).
The seat of government and capital of the Crow Indian Reservation is Crow Agency, Montana.
Prior to the 2001 Constitution, the Crow Nation was governed by a 1948 Constitution. The former constitution organized the tribe as a General Council (Tribal Council). The General Council in essence held the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of the government, and was comprised of all enrolled members of the Crow Nation, provided that females were 18 years or older and males were 21 or older. The General Council was a direct democracy, comparable to that of ancient Athens.
The Crow Nation, or Crow Tribe of Indians, established a three branch government at a 2001 Council Meeting. The new government is known as the 2001 Constitution. The General Council remains the governing body of the tribe; however, the powers were distributed to a three branch government. In theory, the General Council is still the governing body of the Crow Nation, yet in reality the General Council has not convened since the establishment of the 2001 Constitution.
The Executive Branch has four officials. These officials are known as the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Secretary, and Vice-Secretary. The Executive Branch officials are also the officials within the Crow Tribal General Council, which has not met since July 15, 2001. These officials established the 2001 Constitution.
The Legislative Branch consists of three members from each district on the Crow Indian Reservation. The Crow Indian Reservation is divided into six districts known as The Valley of the Chiefs, Reno, Black Lodge, Mighty Few, Big Horn, and Pryor Districts. The Valley of the Chiefs District is the largest district by population.
The Judicial Branch consists of all courts established by the Crow Law and Order Code and in accordance with the 2001 Constitution. The Judicial Branch has jurisdiction over all matters defined in the Crow Law and Order Code. The Judicial Branch attempts to be a separate and distinct branch of government from the Legislative and Executive Branches of Crow Tribal Government. The Judicial Branch consists of an elected Chief Judge and two Associate Judges. The Crow Court of Appeals, similar to State Court of Appeals, receives all appeals from the lower courts. The Chief Judge of the Crow Nation is Angela Russell.
According to the 1948 Constitution, Resolution 63-01, all constitutional amendments must be voted on by secret ballot or referendum vote. The former Chairperson Birdinground did not complete either action. The quarterly council meeting on July 15, 2001, passed all resolutions, including the measure to repeal the current constitution and approve a new constitution, by voice vote. An opposition has currently arisen to challenge the new constitution’s validity; the challenge is now in Crow Tribal Courts awaiting a decision. The new constitution is contrary to the spirit of the Crow Nation in that it places the authority to approve legislation and decisions in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Crow people have always jealously guarded their sovereignty and Treaty Rights. The alleged New Constitution was not voted on, in order to add it to the agenda of the Tribal Council. It is mandated that constitutional changes be conducted by referendum vote, utilizing the secret ballot election method and criteria. In addition, a constitutional change can only be conducted in a specially called election, which was never approved by council action. The agenda was not voted on or accepted at the council. The only vote taken at the council was whether to conduct the voting by voice vote or walking through the line. All attempts to discuss the Constitution were suppressed and ignored by the Chairman. This council and constitutional change was never ratified by any subsequent council action. It should be noted that the Tribal Secretary, who was removed from office by the BirdinGround Administration, was the leader of the opposition. Therefore, all activity occurred without his signature. When the opposition challenged, citing the violation of the Constitutional Process and the Right to Vote, the Birdinground Administration sought the approval of the United States Department of the Interior (USDOI), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which stated it could not interfere in an internal tribal affair. The federal court also ruled that the constitutional change was an internal tribal matter.
The Crow Nation has traditionally elected a chairperson of the Crow Tribal Council biennially; however, in 2001, the term of office was extended to four years. The previous chairperson was Carl Venne. The chairperson serves as chief executive officer, speaker of the council, and majority leader of the Crow Tribal Council. The constitutional changes of 2001 created a three branch government. The chairperson serves as the head of the executive branch, which includes the offices of vice-chairperson, secretary, vice-secretary, and the tribal offices and departments of the Crow Tribal Administration. Notable chairs are Clara Nomee, Edison Real Bird, and Robert “Robie” Yellowtail.
Chief Running Coyote developed the buffalo jump in the late 16th century to procure meat. Chief Bear Whose Heart Is Never Good is supposedly the one who formed the River Crow band in the mid-17th century. Chief Young White Buffalo was the first to bring horses to the tribe in the late 17th century, perhaps from the Shoshoni, Interior Salish (aka, Flatheads), or Nez Perce. Chief Long Hair was called such because of his extraordinarily long hair, approximately eleven feet six inches long. The Crow had at least three known female chiefs, one of which (Woman Chief, or Bíawacheeitchish) was possibly two-spirit, or transgender, in today’s terms. Chief Plenty Coups was a Crow chief and visionary leader who helped his people adapt to the loss of the buffalo and encroaching white population in the late 1800s and to negotiate with the U.S. government.
The tribe hosts a large Dance Celebration, rodeo, and parade annually; the 86th Crow Fair will be held in Crow Agency from August 17 – August 21, 2006. Called “Baasaxpilue” which means “to make much noise,” it is the largest and most spectacular of Indian celebrations in the northern Plains. Photographer Elsa Spear Byron photographed the Crow Fair from 1911 to the 1950s.
Angus Young, a Crow elder and historian, and professor at Little Big Horn College, was featured on the 2006 installment of the PBS television series Frontier House.
In the documentary Native Spirit and the Sun Dance Way, Thomas Yellowtail, a Crow Medicine Man and Sun Dance chief for over thirty years describes and explains the ancient Sun Dance ceremony which is held sacred to the Crow tribe. In the film Legends of the Fall actor Gordon Tootoosis used Yellowtail’s words to look into the preservation of a cultural and spiritual world before the coming of European settlers.
In 2007 Medicine Crow’s grandson Joe Medicine Crow appears on Ken Burns PBS series The War (documentary).
On May 19, 2008, Hartford and Mary Black Eagle of the Crow Nation adopted U.S. Senator (now President) Barack Obama into the tribe on the date of the first ever visit of a U.S. presidential candidate to the nation. Crow representatives also took part in Obama’s inaugural parade.