Sunday, September 11, 2011

Archaeology of the Crow Indians

Interesting news item from Montana today, where some archaeologists working for the highway department located a site important in the nineteenth-century history of the Crow Nation. What was found is the site where the Crow (Absaroka or Apsáalooke in their own language, which is still much spoken) were camped in 1880 when the US government imposed on them the treaty that limited them to their current reservation. One of the chiefs is supposed to have said, "If we agree to be farmers, will you stop taking our land?"

Among the artifacts recovered were this revolver chamber and US cavalry button, and also the arm from a porcelain doll.

The most interesting part of the story was this:

The Crow tribe is now considering how the ruins should be remembered. The tribe’s archaeologist, Tim McCleary, a professor of anthropology at Bighorn Community College, located on the Crow reservation, said that the events of March 1880 were huge historical markers for the tribe, but that many families with mixed Crow and white heritage also trace their ancestry to marriages that began as contact grew between the tribe and federal administrators, making memories complicated.

“It’s obviously an important site,” he said. “But feelings are mixed.”

The Crow took the side of the US government during the war with the Sioux that included Custer's defeat at Little Bighorn, and they got a better deal than many tribes. Their reservation is pretty big and it is in the heart of their former territory. The tribe seems to be pretty healthy, too. So it is interesting to me that many tribal members don't want a big deal made of the site of this treaty.

Out of curiosity I checked the tribal web site to see what it said about this event. The web site is mainly set up for people who want to contact the tribal government or attend their annual fair, but it does have a "history" link. This narrative is entirely devoted to the ancient legends and oral history of the tribe and says nothing at all about their nineteenth-century dealings with the US government.

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