A temporal public art event staged at the Headwaters of the Missouri River
A collaboration between indigenous scholar Shane Doyle and multi-media artist Mary Ellen Strom, “Cherry River: Where the Rivers Mix,” to be held Aug. 23-24 at the Missouri River Headwaters State Park, is the culminating event of Mountain Time Arts’ three-year series “WaterWorks.”
These innovative public art projects have engaged internationally-known artists along with hundreds of local community members including ranchers, scientists, conservationists, engineers, ethnobotanists, Native American scholars and politicians to promote a better understanding of the region’s complex water systems—and each other.
Featuring the Fox Family Fiddlers, Jamie Fox and the Northern Cree Singers, the central scene of this art series finale is a ceremony to rename the East Gallatin River, one of the three tributaries that join to form the Missouri River, to the Plains Indian name Cherry River.
The Northern Cree Singers, a powwow and round-dance drum and singing group based in Maskwacis, Alberta, Canada, have been nominated for six Grammy Awards. Métis fiddler Jamie Fox from the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana currently lives in Denmark. Fox is a celebrated player of Métis fiddle music, a style grown out of a mixture of Celtic, French, and Native American cultures. She will be joined by her father, Jim, and her brother, Vince.
Doyle and Strom’s project examines the history and ecology of this significant site using the flow of the three rivers as a narrative structure and a cultural bridge. Live musicians will perform on drift boats floating on the three rivers toward the confluence of the Missouri or what Native Peoples called “where the rivers mix.” A choir of local singers, who both sing and speak, will be positioned on the river bank. The work will be composed and arranged by music director Ruby Fulton. Large-scale sculptures will feature the color of local chokecherries, a deep magenta and red ochre which is a pigment found in the region.
The chokecherry shrub was an essential staple for numerous groups of Native Peoples and continues to provide crucial sustenance for bees, birds, small mammals and bears in the Rocky Mountain West.
Lewis and Clark designated this portion of the river as the East Gallatin in 1805. Naming the piece “Cherry River” is meant to raise awareness about the health of southwestern Montana river systems and recognize the area’s indigenous history.
Employing a collaborative art project to generate new knowledge of the region’s prominent cultural and environmental issues, “Cherry River” shines a spotlight on the indigenous cultural and environmental narratives of the Headwaters location, and hopes to bring together diverse perspectives to work toward comprehensive and informed solutions about strained water resources.
“Mountain Time Arts is dedicated to producing public art that explores the history, culture and environment, and with ‘Cherry River,’ to value and share Indigenous knowledges that will help us grapple with river health in our changing climate,” said Dede Taylor, one of the founders of the arts nonprofit.
A celebration with indigenous food and libations will follow the event.
The event is free and open to the public but reservations are required. Visit mountaintimearts.org for details.