When Crow elected officials raised a new flag at the Apsaalooke Veterans Park last week, it immediately raised eyebrows—and the ire—of some tribal members. Flying alongside flags representing the state of Montana, the Crow Nation, the United States and the U.S. military was the Israeli “Star of David” flag.
Like the tribally sponsored “Jesus Christ Is Lord On the Crow Indian Reservation” billboard erected late last year, the Israeli flag was the physical manifestation of a bill (JAR-No. 13-05) to “Establish Crow Tribal policy officially supporting the State of Israel on a nation-to-nation basis.”
Although the resolution declared that support for Israel was partly to commend that nation for supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, religious references abound in the legal wording.
It states, “Whereas, according to the King James Version of the Holy Bible, Book of Genesis Chapter 12,Verses 2 and 3, the words of the Creator (‘Akbaatatdia’) to the nation of Israel provide that: I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the Earth be blessed.”
The Crow tribal government claimed historical similarities between the countries as well, saying they both managed to survive while being surrounded by enemy tribes who wanted to see them eradicated.
As a “Monument to Policy,” the tribal executive branch explicitly included in the bill the words: “…shall take care to ensure that an official flag of the State of Israel is flown at the Veterans Park in Crow Agency as a monument to the official policy of the Crow Tribe.”
In a March 2014 gathering organized by then-U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont.—now a U.S. senator— Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer told Crow tribal members: “I know that a people connected to their land for millennia can appreciate the nearly 4,000-year-old unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and their land. Thank you for your strong support of the state of Israel and your good wishes to the people of Israel. On behalf of the people of Israel I wish you and your nation health and prosperity.”
Daines said, “I applaud the Crow Tribe for proactively affirming Israel’s right to exist and was honored to bring together representatives of the tribe and Israel’s ambassador to the United States to commemorate this act of friendship.”
Despite JAR 13-05 being signed into law back in 2013, it came as a surprise to many and it raised the ire of many tribal members when the foreign flag was finally raised on the prominent reservation park (President Barack Obama had campaigned at that spot in 2008 where he was adopted by the tribe).
Veteran Taylor Real Bird immediately started a petition against it. Real Bird, however, is careful to say that the purpose of his petition wasn’t anti-Israeli or against the flag or even the Judeo-Christian ties to it, but to protest its location on grounds used to honor tribal veterans.
Julia Kelly, a retired command sergeant major and Iraqi combat veteran who served for 28 years in the Army, said “I disagree with another nation’s flag being flown in the Apsaalooke Veterans Memorial Park. This disagreement is not political or religious. This is about flag etiquette of another nation’s flag. The research should be done and follow international flag etiquette.”
Other tribal members, including Brian Vallie, directly addressed what they said were personal religious beliefs by those supporting the flag-raising.
“Every response from the people who erected the (‘Jesus Christ Is Lord’) sign have made it clear that the flag’s purpose is deeply motivated by religion and politics, neither of which should be allowed anywhere on a park honoring our brave veterans.”
Luella Brien noted that as was the case with the “Jesus” resolution, there wasn’t any public input on the matter as legislators rushed it through without regard to public opinion.
“Did you guys know that this was such a divisive issue? Did anybody know that?” Brien asked tribal representatives at an emergency forum held to hear complaints about the policy.
The Crow tribal government plans to convene a closed-door meeting to further discuss the issue.
“You didn’t reach out to the community that you represent,” Brien said. “If you were being true representatives you guys would be collaborating, forward thinking—proactive. You wouldn’t wait until two years later to hang a flag and say, ‘Oh, we better hold a forum!’ You would’ve gone out into the community and said, ‘Should we even do this? If we do to this, how is it going to work?’ That’s collaboration.”