Traditions, Family and New Year Celebrations: Scenes from Crow Fair 2023

Traditions, Family and New Year Celebrations: Scenes from Crow Fair 2023
Scenes from Crow Fair during the morning parade in Crow Agency on Aug. 19, 2023.

By / Daily Montanan

CROW AGENCY– Sisters Loreen Crooked Arm and Roberta Walk Over Ice hurry to finish tying white buckskin on braids for Blaze, Crooked Arm’s grandson, as songs from the Powwow grand entry echo from the newly finished Arbor.

Less than 15 minutes later, five year-old Blaze was dancing Crow Style in the middle of the Arbor, his headpiece made of porcupine quills bouncing with each step.

Thousands filled the Arbor and surrounding grounds during the weekend of Aug. 18 at the Teepee Capital of the World at Crow Fair, in south central Montana. Events included parades, powwows with drumming and dancing, Indian relay and more.

Crow Fair marks the celebration of the New Year for the Crow Tribe, Cassandra Walks Over Ice explained.

“This was the last get together before people started hunting and storing their food and everything for wintertime,” she said. “Way back in the day this is what we’d do.”

Scenes from Crow Fair during the morning parade in Crow Agency on Aug. 19, 2023.

Beading for the Next Generation

Crooked Arm told the Daily Montanan her family grew up without the means for multiple outfits for powwows, so she and Roberta Walks Over Ice grew up having to share one dress between the two, meaning only one of them could dance at events at a time. They would flip a coin to see who could wear the garment .

But now, she beads constantly to make sure her children and grandchildren don’t have to share with anyone. Her granddaughter, Mya Plenty Buffalo, 10, wore a pink elk tooth dress she beaded to dance on Saturday. Another granddaughter, Myle White, 13, rode her horse in the parade and was decked out in beaded items from her grandmother.

Crooked Arm said it took a lot of time to get things finished for Crow Fair, and that she’ll bead for an hour or two a day, often listening to disco music as she goes. Her favorite track is “Disco Inferno.” Although she’s been beading for 20 years, she still considers herself an amateur, saying she only really got into beading after her older sister, who has since died, told her she wasn’t going to bead for her anymore.

She told a story of her sister Walks Over Ice once rushing to get beadwork done that she beaded as she drove, her knee holding the steering wheel in place for about 30 miles. Another time Crooked Arm offered to buy her sister’s tires in exchange for beaded moccasins, and after driving down to Sheridan for the tires they made the exchange, something they laugh about now.

Starting off with a Boom

Saturday morning kicked off with a parade, with the procession lining up on Heritage Road and beginning with a large booming sound that got the horses riled and ready to proceed through the grounds. Gov. Greg Gianforte rode a horse at the front of the parade with a white cowboy hat , waving to attendees on the side of the road. Not far behind him was Republican candidate for Senate and CEO of federal contractor Bridger Aerospace Tim Sheehy, with a campaign sign with his name on it attached to the saddle of his horse.

A letter signed by 37 Republican legislators in the state encouraged U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale put his hat in the ring for Senate, including Speaker of the House Matt Regier and Senate President Jason Ellsworth. When asked about the letter, Sheehy said in a democracy “everyone gets to back their candidate of choice and hopefully you win.”

Sheehy told the Daily Montanan his family tries to come to Crow Fair every year, but he would be going back to his ranch following the parade.

“These are the first Montanans, you know, so it’s great to connect with them,” he said.

Women and men in full regalia of all ages were on horseback, split into categories, with horses adorned with beaded keyhole ornaments. Behind them were cars with current and former title holders, royalty, with at least one car holding multiple generations of Rodeo Queen title holders.

87 year-old Velma Fitzpatrick was Crow Fair Rodeo Queen in 1953, and her niece and granddaughters won the same title in 1980 and 2018. She said she loves to see the tradition continue in her family.

“It really hits my heart when I think about it,” she said.

Stories from Crow Fair 2023

Drumming to the Beat

Butch Little Light first learned to drum from his grandpa.

“I’m thankful man– my grandpa didn’t say ‘No, you guys go play’– he gave us a stick, told us to sit down, showed us the song and it just went from there,” Little Light said.

Little Light went on to form Nighthawk Jrz with his brother, and they performed in the Arbor beating a drum sitting in a circle as the sounds of jingle dresses and bells accompanied their voices on beat.

Little Light started making original music after playing covers at powwows and events and sometimes getting flack from other songwriters. His drumming and singing career took him to New York and even to the White House, a career highlight.

“It’s hard to beat singing at the White House,” he said.

In his lyrics he said he tries to convey the pride he has in his children, three boys and a girl. As far as goals for what’s next, Little Light said he just wants to keep singing with his family.

“The joy of being able to sing with my boys and my brothers,” he said.

Indian Relay Replay

Jadence Archilta started riding in Indian Relay when he was 13 years old, he told the Daily Montanan sitting in the stables following the relay that night. His team, the S/M Express, came in third in their heat.

At 19, he’s no longer riding but helps with the transfer of the rider from one horse to another that happens after the first lap. The rider happens to be his brother, Desmond, who the emcee announced as a “three-time world champion.” The team wore bright neon shirts and competed against five other teams in the heat on Saturday.

Jadence said he’s enjoyed watching his brother’s success riding and said he’s proud of him.

“He’s won a lot this year. He’s won more championships than I have,” he said. “Good to see him do good in horse racing.”

His family watched as the brothers worked together Saturday, with Jadence saying they typically bring food and help where they can.

Jadence said he first got into relay after a friend, Alan, who has since passed away in a car crash, got him into it. He said he thinks of him on the good days on the track.

“On days that I feel good– if we win or something– I’ll come back and I’ll be happy, I’ll look in the sky and say thank you for looking out for me.”

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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