By Allen Russell Explorebigsky.com Contributor
I find Indian reservations every bit as exotic and socially complex as places I’ve photographed halfway around the world. While finding similarities among Montana’s seven reservations, insightful travelers will also notice each has unique qualities and customs.
The Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana is the largest in the state. In mid-August its people, the Apsáalooke Tribe (better known as the Crow), held the 93rd annual Crow Fair. Billed as “the teepee capital of the world,” more than 10,000 native people set up 1,700 teepees and 1,200 tents near the banks of the Little Big Horn River. The three-day event included daily parades, all-Indian rodeos, Indian horse racing and intertribal powwows.
Each morning, the Apsáalooke formed a parade, winding through camp on horseback and riding atop flatbed trucks, bedecked with beadwork and traditional attire. While this kaleidoscope of colors was undeniably Indian, the procession wasn’t that different from other small town parades: Local dignitaries, politicians and myriad others showing what they’re proud of. In tune with the Crows’ strong horse culture, there were horses aplenty.
The afternoon rodeos showcased the skills of Indian cowboys and horsemen. The events were similar to most professional rodeos in the West, but like most of Indian life, rodeo is a family affair. The kids who were too young to compete made up their own affair behind the scenes; young bareback riders, seemingly glued to their mounts, staged horse races, roped each other, and had fun just being kids.
The evening powwows, with a richness of ritual, color and motion, are the core of the Crow Fair every year. Powwow is a central part of culture for many Indians, and their pride in this custom is evident in the elaborate costumes and the energy of the dance.
Each day I made a point to wander through camp, observing and photographing the Crow lifestyle. The people were friendly and open, and I was welcomed into several family camps and invited to share meals.
This story and photo essay was first published in the winter 2011/12 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.