Reporter’s Notebook: Crows flock to Chicago

Thursday, March 19, 2020
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Photo by Rusty LaFrance
A companion installation of the Field Museum’s Apsáalooke Women and Warriors exhibit is on display at the Neubauer Collegium on the campus of the University of Chicago. The gallery space that has been reimagined as the inside of a teepee, with 21 poles and a liner, and boughs of cedar tied to each pole.

Last week I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the new Apsáalooke Women and Warriors exhibit opening at the Chicago Field Museum.

Granted, while my regular 9 to 5 job is as a reporter for the Big Horn County News, I was also asked to be a collaborator on the new exhibit by the curator and one of my Whistle Water clan sisters, Nina Sanders.

Apsáalooke culture, especially our horse culture, is the one true love in my life.

I don’t have an anthropology degree, yet. I do have an immense love and respect for my peoples’ artifacts and items. I simply couldn't say no to the opportunity to be a part of a museum exhibit that tells the Apsáalooke perspective through our eyes.

Work on this project began last year, and I was commissioned to write a collaboration piece with another contributor on the Apsáalooke ideologies of gender construct.

Once that was completed, I was also asked to do translation work and was tasked with translating all of the Crow contributor’s Apsáalooke names, and the names of the items included in the exhibit, which was almost 800 terms in total.

Over the course of the year, the exhibit and the work of over 20 contributors finally came to a finish. It was time for us all to make the journey down to Chicago to see the longawaited exhibit.

Once I arrived in Chicago, I joined a group of Crows and journeyed down to the Field Museum for our own private viewing of the exhibit and what we saw was absolutely spectacular.

Divided into two sections, the first portion of the exhibition details the emergence of the Crow people, pre-reservation days, and colonization. The second section details the early reservation days, the transition to modernity, the present day culture and future projections for the tribe.

When I walked in, the first thing I met with was a spectacular voiceover by Nina Sanders telling the Apsáalooke creation story with an accompanying animated video.

Turn the corner, and I saw many cultural items, such as vintage horse regalia, men and women’s traditional regalia, a horse model wearing regalia made by Lydia Falls Down and a huge nine-foot statue by Ben Pease.

Over the speaker system, you hear the music of Christian Takes the Gun-Parrish rapping in both English and the Crow language.

Overall, the exhibition gives people the opportunity to view the world through Apsáalooke eyes from different perspectives.

Another section showcases seven never before displayed war shields belonging to Crow warriors beneath seven portraits of Crow women, symbolizing how women once cared for men’s items.

One of the shields belongs to Buakwaalaaxeesh, Crazy Sister-In-Law, the father of the famous Crow medicine woman Pretty Shield, who narrated her life to writer Frank B. Linderman.

The presence of the shield has immense significance to Crow tribal members because the shield was present at Ashkootaawinnaxchiihkuua known to the Crow as “Where the Camp Was Fortified,” but known to everyone else as The Battle of Pryor Creek.

The Crow people were attacked by the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho to wipe out, but the enemy was stopped by when supernatural forces intervened and saved the tribe.

The sheer power and presence of the medicine on these shields will bring anyone to tears.

For me, it was almost like visiting an elder who never receives visitors. They felt as though they were yearning to know and speak to someone from home, to hear their language, and see the sunlight, some of whom have not seen the sun in over 100 years.

I am at a loss for words to describe the sheer emotion and elation that myself and the other contributors felt to see these incredible items of our history.

The exhibit continues on and gives a modern look and identity of the Apsáalooke in the present time, by showcasing today’s fashion alongside traditional items of the past.

As you turn the corner in the exhibit space, you see a beautiful dress designed by Della Big Hair-Stump, and the new spring line of B. Yellowtail, featuring a video of the spring collective with several Apsáalooke models, including myself, wearing B. Yellowtail and riding with our traditional horse regalia.

On another wall towards the end of the exhibit, a sign on the wall commemorates the exhibit to Kaysera Stops Pretty Places and Selena Not Afraid, who unfortunately died before the exhibit was finished.

The companion installation of the Women and Warriors exhibit is on display at the Neubauer Collegium on the campus of the University of Chicago, a program dedicated to culture and society.

The gallery space that has been reimagined as the inside of a teepee, with 21 poles and a liner, and boughs of cedar tied to each pole.

Hanging on the poles are more pieces of rare and priceless pieces of Crow art, including a beaded elk hide wedding blanket, a Crow man's war shirt and a beaded cradleboard.

The “teepee” also includes pieces of vintage furniture such as Victorian style couches, tables, mirrors and chairs, but also with traditional Crow accents such as a buffalo robe.

The centerpiece of the tepee however, is another shield that was transported from the Field that has not left the collections room in over a century.

Behind a glass case, the shield gives a sort of blessing to the tepee space that makes it feel like one is sitting in their tepee at Crow Fair.

When we all went to the private reception for the main exhibition before it opened to the public, most of us all sat in the tepee because it gave a familiar feel, almost like we were back home.

The Neubauer display was opened to the public on Thursday, and in true Crow-style fashion we made it a truly special occasion.

Two city streets were closed down and five horses that were rented for the occasion were dressed as though they were ready to ride down Gas Cap Hill on a hot August morning in Crow Agency.

The grand procession to the Neubauer included over 20 Crow style dancers and a five-person horse parade; riders included myself, Kami Jo White Clay, Sharmaine Hill, JoRee LaFrance, Nina Sanders. This was the first time in the university’s history that horses were allowed onto the grounds at the quad.

Once we had reached the Neubauer, we began to follow our traditional Crow customs and proceeded to perform a giveaway ceremony, Crow style dancing, and honor songs sung for Nina Sanders, the curator of the exhibitions.

The sheer magic and magnificence of the entire experience was definitely one that I will never forget and to reflect back on such a historic moment for the Apsáalooke people, brings emotions over me that manifests as tears joy and elation.

My words and writings can only describe so much, but to see, feel and hear such an incredible and spectacular production is an entirely different story in itself.

I would highly recommend than anyone and everyone make the journey to Chicago to go and be witness such a remarkable and beautiful experience.

I must also give recognition to my dear clan sister, Nina. She was able to bring her vision to life and include so many other Apsáalooke in this process, when she could have done all of it on her own, is something that speaks volumes to her character.

I hope that this story will give you the inspiration you need to go down to Chicago and see this absolutely breathtaking exhibit and display.