Crow Pipe Ceremony links disparate cultures

Posted 6/14/11

While people may have dissimilar convictions of what is spiritual, religious or sacred, a link was nonetheless established between people of diverse cultures.

Mary Keller said the Crow people and what she refers to as the “settler culture,” …

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Crow Pipe Ceremony links disparate cultures


Native culture says Heart Mountain contains an energy, and members of the Crow Tribe tapped into that energy Saturday at the mountain to engage the 30 or so people present at a Crow Pipe Ceremony.

Crow tribal elder Grant Bulltail presented the ceremony.

While people may have dissimilar convictions of what is spiritual, religious or sacred, a link was nonetheless established between people of diverse cultures.

Mary Keller said the Crow people and what she refers to as the “settler culture,” came together Saturday. Keller teaches history of religions at the University of Wyoming’s Northwest Regional Center in Cody.

“That was the spirit of the event,” Keller said.

“I want to pray with the tobacco,” Bulltail said, holding a ceremonial pipe with Heart Mountain as his backdrop.

To the Crow, the pipe was a gift from the Sun or Maker, said Howard Boggess, of Billings.

Smoking the pipe expels bad energy, empowers the smoker and restores harmony with nature, Bulltail said.

Bulltail prays to the east for the light of the rising sun conveying wisdom; south, where warm winds blow; north, where birds migrate in the summer; and west, where all travel.

Severe weather has triggered much hardship across the land.

“And they’re also suffering,” Bulltail said. “We ask that you (Sun) give them peace.”

“We ask for your mercy,” Bulltail said.

Bulltail’s wife, Linda, prays too.

“Today is a good day,” she says.

Singing its own song, a tiny creek burbles in a grassy green draw below the site of the ceremony and meadowlark trills gently as the creek’s accompaniment. This may be a solemn occasion, but the exuberance of the beautiful morning is absorbed by all.

Married nearly 45 years, Linda and Grant Bulltail have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“Every morning we wake up, our hearts go to the Creator,” Linda said. “Because we are here because of him.”

“Pray with me in your hearts,” Linda asked.

Her head is bowed as she prays in her native tongue. White heads bowed too, all praying to their own creator.

Then members of the “Goes Well Drum Group” of Billings sing. The chant begins somberly. All the men pound the communal drum with sticks, creating a rich, kettledrum cadence. The drum/chant tempo increases, as though lugubriousness has segued to a celebration like the sun rising after a cold, dark night.

Then, the dancing starts.

Four Crow teenagers in colorful native garb dance to the chant of the men and beat of the drum.

One foot taps, then shuffles forward, bouncing all the time in a steady rhythm. Then the other foot follows.

The girls, with an aura of princesses, are clad in blue dresses bejeweled with elk teeth and leather fringe. Downy feathers in their jet black hair flutter as they step.

The boys, with bouncing feather clusters on their posteriors, hop with the pluck of adolescent youth, looking regal and cool simultaneously.

They’re doing the “Crow Hop,” popular at powwows, Native American nations conferences, said Franco Little Light, a Drum Group member.

“Ha yaaaa,” chant the singers, pounding the drum, “ha yaa.”

For the next song, the children grab people from the audience to join in a dance. The folks don’t know the steps, but they’re game, shuffling and hopping in a circle, their arms intertwined with the youth.

Brown and white faces are united, dancing while Heart Mountain surveys the scene the peace and synergy of two people drawn together.

“Heart Mountain has been a part of the history and culture of people for a long time,” said Carrie Peters, who runs Heart Mountain Ranch for The Nature Conservancy.

The ranch wants to showcase Heart Mountain conservation while still allowing a variety of recreational activities, Peters said.

“It is a celebration of the mountain,” Peters said.

Christ Episcopal Church has strong ties to the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes and is endeavoring to reconnect with the Crow, said Rev. Mary Caucutt of Christ Episcopal in Cody.

Once the Crow lived here and buried ancestors on the mountain — now, the Wyoming tribe members live in Montana, Keller said.

People must realize that this was once Crow land, Caucutt said.

Partners in Saturday’s event included Christ Episcopal Church, Greater Yellowstone Historical Society who organized the documentary shooting, The Nature Conservancy, Grant Bulltail and the Goes Well Drum Group.

Filming storytelling by Bulltail and culminating with the Pipe Ceremony was documented for Bulltail and will be archived at Utah State University in Logan, Keller said.

Cody businesses, Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut and the Beta Coffee House donated food.

Christ Episcopal Church organized the event and got the food.

For a couple of hours, people shared doughnuts and coffee while experiencing Native American culture. Some hiked up Heart Mountain and later, ate pizza. Pizza is not traditional Crow cuisine, but those assembled broke bread together.

With Heart Mountain standing tall in the morning sun, Bulltail wrapped up the celebration.

“I know that the source of energy was giving us energy today,” Bulltail said. “We will bring joy and harmony to everyone we come across.”

The goal is living in the moment. Not the past or the future, said Episcopal Bishop of Wyoming John Smylie.

“To recognize the holiness of our relationships and the holiness of this place,” Smylie said.