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Puttin’ the WOW in Powwow

By Bennett Owen

Credit: Donnie Sexton (c) at  Travel Montana

Crow call it Baasaxpilue (to make much noise). It is considered the largest American Indian Tipi encampment in the US, and it’s in place for the next four nights…The Crow Fair, celebrating its 93rd year at  Crow Agency on the banks of the Little Bighorn River, (yes, THAT Little Bighorn) south of Billings, Montana. Organizers bill it as “a giant family reunion under the Big Sky.”

Crow Fair, c.1940. Credit: Marion Wolcott, Library of Congress

Crow Fair, c.1940. Credit: Marion Wolcott, Library of Congress

Crow Fair in Montana, c. 1930 Credit: BBHC McCracken Collection

Crow Fair, Montana. Credit: Crow Voices

The biggest attraction is the rodeo but this gathering is also aimed at keeping alive the rich traditions of the Plains Indians.

There is drumming –

And children –

Credit: Susan NYC

Credit: Susan NYC

Credit: Susan NYC

And color –

Credit: Susan NYC

Credit: Susan NYC

And dancing -

I’m a pale skin and this sound scares the crap out of me. There are also contests for regalia, such as the War Bonnet, War Shirt and other traditional garb.

Credit: Susan NYC

The festivities attract up to 50,000 people to this remote outpost on the prairie. Perhaps more importantly, more than 10,000 Crow people gather for the annual powwow. The culture is alive here – an estimated 85 percent of tribal people still speak Crow as their first language, fiercely proud of their reputation as a ‘horse people.’  In a recent interview with the Indian Country Media Network, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Dale Old Horn, said, The celebration of our way of life is predicated on the very visible expression of our native beliefs in our ceremonies and rituals.”  Rituals preserved and passed on at Crow Fair.

Credit: Susan NYC

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