the help of a new $1.2 million grant, a history project is "reawakening
the memory of the Northern Cheyenne," a member of the tribe
American Indian Tribal Histories Project at the Western Heritage
Center will help preserve threatened culture and traditions of several
of disappearing, that knowledge now can be passed on to future generations,
said Rubie Sootkis, a field director for the project.
project is rescuing traditional and contemporary tribal history
by transferring it into books, educational DVDs and museum exhibits.
project was recently awarded the $1.2 million by the U.S. Department
of Interior to fund its second year. Last year, the project received
$1 million to start work on Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.
new grant will help the project expand to the Fort Belknap Reservation
home to Gros Ventre and Assiniboine-Sioux tribes, said Francine
Bear Dont Walk, director of the program.
its first months, the project hired two field directors, Sooktis,
a writer and filmmaker who has spent years documenting Northern
Cheyenne culture, and Mardell Plainfeather, a Crow historian who
has worked for the National Park Service and Little Bighorn College
at Crow Agency.
students from Montana State University-Billings, Rocky Mountain
College, Little Bighorn College and Chief Dull Knife College have
been hired as interns. The students are being trained in interview
and research techniques and in how to use audio and video equipment.
with current tribal members, "the meat of the project,"
will begin in February, Bear Dont Walk said.
tribal members interviewed will be those who are knowledgeable in
many areas including lullabies, classic stories, art, music and
traditional skills such as tanning hides.
information will be used to create a DVD for each tribe that can
be used in schools both on and off reservations.
DVD, which may be available as soon as November, will be an encyclopedia
of primary sources of Indian traditions.
a teacher wants students to learn about a sun dance, for example,
students can listen to a tribal expert talk about the ceremony.
each tribe's culture is continuing to evolve, information about
21st century music, athletics and rodeo will be included.
and music recorded in the past that Sooktis and Plainfeather have
tracked down also may be incorporated into each DVD.
of each tribe's unique history and culture will be presented at
the Western Heritage Center in February 2005.
book on contemporary members of each tribe is expected to be published
in November 2005. The book will be a snapshot of "who we are
today," said Bear Dont Walk.
tribal history project has been a dream come true for Bear Dont
and less cultural information is being passed down to younger generations
Dont Walk, who is in her 30s, doesn't speak Northern Cheyenne and
knows of few young people who speak it fluently.
the Crow language, considered one of healthiest among all tribes
in the United States, is in danger of disappearing, Plainfeather
parents now work and don't have time to talk about traditions with
their children, Sooktis said. Extended, multigenerational families,
once the norm in Indian country, are beginning to disappear.
only is the project helping American Indians learn more about their
own tribes, but about other tribes as well.
though Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes have lived side by side
on neighboring reservations, Sooktis is learning new things about
Crow history and culture.
Charette, a Northern Cheyenne who is the administrative officer
for the project, said it has special meaning for her family.
7-year-old daughter, Savannah, is half Crow and will be able to
learn of about both sides of her family with the project's help.