Crow Fair provides old-time magic in a new age

Thursday, August 8, 2019
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Young Crow-style dancers participate in traditional dance competitions during the centennial Crow Fair celebration in 2018.

With the biggest celebration of the year for the Crow Tribe right around the corner, there are so many small details that go into putting together the big show for the 101st annual Crow Fair Celebration.

While the term “camping” implies a little bit of extra elbow grease due to being away from the comforts of home, Crow Fair camping preparations are somewhat different than traditional camping.

Janine Pease, who spoke to Big Horn County News about her role in the preparations of heading to the week-long celebration.

“I’ve already went camping up at the Rocky Boy Powwow Celebration, so one could say I’ve had a small scale rehearsal,” Pease said with a laugh.

With so many variables to consider, from repairing the camp shade structures, cooking meals to accommodate family and guests, hauling horses either for the rodeo or for the daily parades, and even the cultural aspects of conductivity in everyday life in the camp.

“There has to be a lot of coordination between everyone who comes together to contribute putting up the tepees, wall tents, and camp shades,” Pease added. “I have a canvas sewing kit for on-the-spot repairs to any of the canvas that might have been damaged since the last Crow Fair.”

The entire family is often employed to help with the construction of the camp, from unpacking items off the truck to the set up of the tepees that will become a home away from home.

Camp preparations usually begin as early as late June, and some families move into camp as early as the beginning of August.

“My time has primarily been devoted to the regalia aspect of Crow Fair,” Pease says. “Repairing moccasins that need amendments from their use in summer powwows, a new dress for my little granddaughter, helping my family with a first time dance, there are so many other aspects that go in to preparations, as well as the camp.” Pease said.

Appropriately given the distinction of “Tepee Capital Of The World”, the entire gathering gives a visitor from the “outside world” a peek behind the veil of modernity, and a brief insight into the historic world of the Apsáalooke people.

Braving the August heat, mosquitoes, work schedules and monetary expenses while setting up and taking down for Crow Fair, one must give recognition to the women of the buffalo days, who were charged with the task of moving camp, horses, children, and then setting the camp up and cooking an evening meal

Much like the historical moves from camp to camp following the buffalo, instead of moving tepee poles on horses, the pickup has replaced the horse.

“It certainly has become a division of labor,” Pease said. “The men are given the responsibility in more recent days of the harder manual labor of pitching tepees, getting the wood for a camp shade, and hauling it in their pickups, yet the women are also doing their efforts as well, setting up the kitchen, preparing menus for feeds, repairing regalia, preparing the tepees and tents with bedding, and more,” Pease said. “Every camp really has to come about based on teamwork.”

Yet for all of these preparations that take place, at last they finally culminate in a colorful and spiritual vibrancy that spans but one short weekend, but last for a lifetime.

“Being within the camp setting, it takes away a lot of the modern distractions, such as a cable TV blaring in the background, but opens up more opportunity for story telling and spending close down-time with your family,” Pease said.

“I certainly have become one of the ladies who spends almost the entire week in camp, because that’s just how much I love being there” said Pease.

While this celebration comes but once a year, it truly has become the pinnacle of the Apsáalooke identity in the modern world, Pease says.

Truly, there is a struggle to find the words and descriptions, which can accurately describe Crow Fair in its entirety and splendor.

The magic of seeing this tangible culture and being a person living in the traditional ways, while also trying to straddle living in this age of technological advancements and modernity, is something that leaves a lasting impression on everyone who is immersed in it at Crow Fair.

“It rekindles that sense of being in the old encampments and it’s really a treat to be with close family and friends for an entire week,” Pease said.

She also recalls a time when she asked her son at the age of 5, to describe a place that he would consider perfect.

“He replied that Crow Fair was perfect place,” she says. “To eat steak every night, scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, ride horses all day and go swimming whenever we wanted, and dance all night.”

Crow Fair Contacts:
Crow Fair Powwow Manager and Arbor Vendors Inquiries
Alvie Old Coyote
Crow Fair Rodeo Manager and Rodeo Vendors Inquiries
Tronnes Bird In Ground
Crow Fair Racing Commissioner and Indian Relay Inquiries
Gale Three Irons
Crow Fair Parade Manager and Parade Inquiries
Noel Two Leggins