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Keywords: crow nation | montana | native american |
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image by Donald Healy, 2 January 2008
map image by Peter Orenski based on input from Don Healy
Crow Nation - Montana
In their own language, the Crow Tribe of southeastern Montana call themselves Absaroka, or the "bird people". To the early French explorers and voyageurs, the Crow were called the "handsome men" because of their beautifully worked garments and the long flowing black hair that sometimes reached all the way to the ground. The name "Crow" came from crudely translating the term "Absaroka" into "Crow people" instead of "bird people" (ENAT, 76-78).
© Donald Healy 2008
The flag of the Crow Tribe is light blue and bears their tribal seal in the center. This is one of only a half dozen flags originally reported by Dr. Whitney Smith in his "Flag Book of the United States". Like two others, the Cherokee and the Seminole, the current flag differs from the one reported some 25 years ago. The current seal bears much symbolism, starting at the bottom with the peace pipe.
The pipe was traditionally offered as a first placating step in any significant petition of the Crow people, an offer not to be refused by mortals. Above it is the "Sacred Medicine Bundle" (See also the Cheyenne River Sioux). This bundle contains sacred tobacco seeds, tobacco being the only significant crop of the Crow. These particular seeds are believed to be the original and supernatural blessing of the Crow that led them to their present home (Lloyd Old Coyote, "Crow Tribal Emblem, pamphlet, undated). Next in line is a "sweat lodge" a place of purification for both mind and body and a practice frequently employed prior to any major undertaking by the Crow (Note this use of the sweat lodge is widespread throughout Indians from the Northeast all the way to the southwest). The perfectly symmetrical teepee represents the values of a good home and the home of the Crow (ibid.). Behind the teepee are three mountain ranges, the Wolf Mountains, the Big Horn Mountains and the Pryor Mountains. The rays of the sun represent 12 of the original thirteen clans of the Crow. The thirteenth, the "Greasy Mouth" clan, commonly referred to as the sun worshipers, is represented by the sun itself (Frederick Turnsback, Director of Procurement, Crow Nation, letter dated Nov.15, 1994). To either side is a Crow war bonnet, originally the one to the viewers left was larger, but modern versions tend to have both headdresses identical in size. One represents the clan chiefs on the mother's side, the other the clan chiefs on the father's side. Both lend guidance, inspiration and protection to all tribal members.
The changes in the flag over the last thirty years? They are slight. In the current flag there is a definite heavy black border separating the seal from the field of the flag, this being an artistic license not mandated by the official description. At the base of the seal that appeared in Dr. Smith's book (FBUS, 258) was a single white star at the base of the seal; this is now gone. The four lodge poles which represented the four seasons and four winds in Lloyd Old Coyote's design are now missing(but should be present) and lastly, the "Big Dipper" constellation which symbolized the "carrier of messages" has been removed. Despite its changes, the flag of the Crow continues to be one of the most striking examples of Native American flags.
Yet another flag is closely associated with the Crow Nation, that of Chief Plenty Coups. Plenty Coups was a realistic and intelligent member of the Tribe and he quickly rose to the rank of chief, emerging as a leader whose forceful advocacy of change brought him fame in the world and made him a figure of controversy among his own people. Enemy tribes such as the Sioux and Cheyenne surrounded the Crow in the 1880s. To ensure the safety of his people, Chief Plenty Coups allied his people with the white traders and the U.S. military. The Crow provided scouts for the U.S. cavalry and fought in some battles along side them. As a symbol of the gratitude the military had for the support of Plenty Coups and the Crow, he was awarded a special personal flag.
The flag was based upon the military flags employed by the U.S. Army in the late 1800s, but with a red background. It also bore his name in white capital letters below the seal of the United States. This is one of the few examples of native leaders employing flags in the 19th century and only one of two (the other being the Paiute chief, Winnemucca) such flags awarded to them by the United States government or its agents.
[Thanks to James Ferrigan of Flag Services or Reno, NV, for the information on both Plenty Coups' and Winnemucca's flags.]
© Donald Healy 2008
information provided by Peter Orenski, 2 January 2008