is the only state in the nation with a constitution commanding respect
for its American Indian heritage in its public schools.
for decades after that goal was drafted, little was done to introduce
its tribal nations to mainstream culture. That changed two years
ago, when education leaders launched the Montana Tribal History
reporter Rob Chaney received a fellowship from Columbia University's
Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media to examine the project
coming to the state's public schools. This series investigates how
these tribal histories came to be and how they will affect everyone
AGENCY - This is a story about telling stories.
had traveled 350 miles to meet Hubert Two Leggins in Crow Agency,
the self-titled Tipi Capital of the World.
office was crammed with stacks of DVD copies and boxes of textbooks,
so we went outside to enjoy a bright fall day on the Little Big
Horn College campus. Two Leggins coordinated the college's tribal
history project, and I'd come to hear what he'd learned.
found where we came from, what we ate, where we lived," Two
Leggins said. "I'm trying to teach the children, although some
adults don't know what I know."
he told the story of Big Metal:
group of Crow were camped along the Big Horn, hunting. One boy was
taken for a hunting trip by his stepfather, who was treating him
very nicely. They were going to hunt bighorn sheep.
the stepfather really wanted to kill the boy, so, when they reached
the canyon rim, he told the boy to look over at some sheep. Then
the stepfather pushed the boy over the cliff, took his horse and
rode back to camp.
stepfather said he and the boy got separated and pretended to wonder
where the boy was.
boy's mother began to panic, and the camp leaders sent their best
scouts to find him. But the stepfather gave them false directions.
boy actually got hung up on a cedar branch growing out of the cliff
will say 'that's myth,' " Two Leggins said.
animals start talking, they say it's myth or folklore. Their understanding
stops right there."
But the seven rams instructed the little boy.
head ram spoke to him, saying four rams would carry him to the top
of the cliff. The head ram told the boy not to open his eyes or
look down while the other rams were carrying him.
of the four rams took turns carrying him to the top of the cliff.
The last one was called Big Metal, and he was the strongest.
they reached the top, they all gave the boy gifts of knowledge and
wisdom and told him that he would also learn things from the badger.
badger represents stubbornness and strength. When he holds to the
ground, even the bear can't chase him away.
Crow got tepee stakes from the badger. Before that, they used rocks
to hold down the tepees.
boy went home and was welcomed.
for the stepfather, the rams told the boy to walk past the man and
not do anything to him and to not let anyone in the camp touch him.
Instead the boy was to throw a piece of sinew into his mother's
next day, the stepfather was found mangled and unrecognizable, like
the sinew in the fire.
boy also took the name Big Metal. He lived to a great age, and,
when he died, he was placed on a scaffold near the Bighorn River.
know where it is," Two Leggins said of the burial spot.
story is a true story to us. It didn't come from a clan father or
mother, but from an animal who spoke the language. To us, it's like
the Cinderella story."
Two Leggins worded the story of Big Metal differently than I've
recalled it from my notebook.
is serious because oral tradition often depends on special currents
of speech to help the teller remember the tale properly. If Two
Leggins told me the tale again, I bet he'd repeat it beat for beat,
like I'd recite a Shakespeare soliloquy.
reporter is a professional storyteller. But a reporter's methods
are a world away from Big Metal.
Leggins' colleague, Little Big Horn College anthropology professor
Tim McCleary, explained how there are even variations in kinds of
oral history speech.
stories, like Big Metal, are tales of the distant or uncertain past.
Such adventures are told in a narrative style: First he went to
the canyon, and then this happened.
Crow oral tradition also has historical stories, and these must
be told in the first person: I went to the canyon, and I saw this
happen. The teller represents the original witness to the event.
are told in the first person because changing them to third person
alters the story and may affect its truth," McCleary said.
"Changing the grammar changes the perspective, and that may
change the facts."
spent several years as the staff historian at Little Bighorn Battlefield,
site of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's defeat. The story, or
history, of that place is as braided as the reach of the Little
Bighorn River that runs past the college, in the bottom land where
Sitting Bull's huge gathering was camped on June 25, 1876.
white culture, there are different versions," McLeary said.
"There's what's known as the 'Custer Myths' that are treated
as fact by the way historians wrote about it."
ranch house sits a dozen miles west of the Little Bighorn River.
The land between tumbles and twists among small hills and coulees,
opening suddenly into the Bighorn River bottoms. The two rivers
run parallel but oblivious to each other, like written and oral
verbal to written
In mainstream culture, written history drives the paved road, while
oral tradition wanders in the cottonwoods.
acknowledged that turning one into the other is problematic. How
do we know that, somewhere between a great-great-grandfather and
a grandson, an important detail didn't get mangled or exaggerated?
McCleary was doing research on Crow astronomy in 1997, he interviewed
many elders about the stories attached to major constellations.
There was Iipchaiapaachuoo, the Pipe-pointer Stars, that whites
call the Big Dipper, and Ihkawaieische, the Hand Stars (Orion).
of the stories followed similar narratives, except for two elders
who told him versions that differed greatly from the other sources.
mainstream scientific practice, you throw out the outliers,"
McCleary said. "I figured those two guys misheard it somewhere
along the way."
then McCleary found a collection of 1920s field notes that included
constellation narratives. And those notes repeated his outlier stories
almost word for word.
these variations and styles of storytelling really matter?
Leggins' task for the past two years has been to compile Crow history
into books for Montana's public school children to study. But much
of his work has focused on the time of Big Metal and before, going
back 5,000 years to the Pre-Siouan language origins of Crow culture.
been to that site," he said of Big Metal's burial scaffold.
about 2,000 tepee rings there. You can tell a Crow tepee because
they use four base poles and an oblong shape, not round like other
tribes. We know horses came to the Crow in the 1700s, and we know
the story of Big Metal took place just before we got horses.
now we have proof right at the time of this story, when we got horses,
we also went from stones to stakes. There was a group of college
students carbon-dating the tepee rings. The campfires there are
300 years old.
able to connect that story to where it's true that animals do talk.
They call it myth or legend, but they're actually true stories or
events - that's how I see things."
of the land
Two Leggins brought me to the entrance of Little Bighorn College.
a plaza surmounted by four poles, symbolizing an oblong Crow tepee.
In the center of the concrete floor is a brown stone carved in the
shape of the Crow Reservation. It's about the size of a welcome
mat in a home's doorway.
rest of the 30-by-40-foot plaza has several other groupings of triangles
in the concrete. They represent the Three Forks of the Missouri
in the northwest, Wyoming's Wind River Range in the southwest, the
confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in the northeast
and South Dakota's Black Hills in the southeast.
encompasses 38 million acres, including two-thirds of Yellowstone
National Park, Mount Rushmore, S.D., the cities of Billings and
Bozeman and Cody and Rapid City, S.D.
Crow claim this as ancestral territory. But it isn't just a matter
of oral tradition. They got it written down by the U.S. government
in the Treaty of 1851.
the federal law of the land is as reliable as a talking animal?