The tribal flag flies over Crow Agency on Wednesday, the first day of summer.
CROW AGENCY — Crow Native Days got off to a good start on a beautiful summer solstice morning Wednesday, with several hundred people attending a prayer breakfast in the Crow Tribe’s multipurpose building.
The morning got even better when representatives of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway presented a $75,000 check to the tribe—with a promise of another $75,000 to come—toward the building of a new dance arbor.
Crow Native Days coordinator Noel Two Leggins said the $150,000 donation will be used to launch a fundraiser aimed at bringing in $1.2 million to replace and upgrade the aging arbor.
“BNSF kind of opened the door for us,” Two Leggins said.
The tribe hopes to have finished the first phase of construction by August 2018, when the 100th annual Crow Fair will be celebrated, Two Leggins said. The dance arbor, a circular, wooden structure with bleachers, is used for the dance competitions that are at the heart of the annual fair, when Crow Agency becomes known as “The Tepee Capital of the World.”
The prayer breakfast on Wednesday kicked off a smaller, newer celebration that blends a powwow, rodeo, parade and horse racing with an Indian relay, basketball and volleyball tournaments, a youth rally and games including horseshoes and arrow-throwing.
Crow Native Days, now in its 17th year, is more of an internal celebration for tribal members and friends, while Crow Fair draws Indians from across the country and tourists from around the world.
Two Leggins said the arbor is slowly falling apart and needs major repairs every year. The plan is to demolish the arbor and rip up all the associated infrastructure—concrete, plumbing and lighting—and then build a new arbor with new utilities, landscaping and a series of kiosks explaining the history of Crow Fair and the Crow Tribe.
Representing BNSF were Zak Andersen, vice president of corporate relations; Andrew Johnsen, assistant vice president for community affairs; and Chris Howell, director of tribal relations for the railway.
They presented the check to Crow Tribal Chairman Alvin Not Afraid Jr., who reciprocated by handing the men gifts of beaded earrings and bolo ties.
“We’ll be back at the beginning of Crow Fair with another $75,000 to keep the project going,” Andersen promised those attending the prayer breakfast.
Afterward, Two Leggins praised the work of Howell, whose interactions with the Crow Tribe and individual tribal members he described as “just phenomenal.”
Howell, a member of the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma who formerly served as tribal liaison for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, was hired to head up BNSF’s newly created Tribal Relations Department a little more than two years ago. He said he spends 80 percent of his time on the road, meeting with tribes to hear their concerns and to work with them on economic development.
BNSF rail lines go through the land of 86 tribes, and more than 150 tribes are within close driving range of the company’s rail network. Howell said the BNSF Railway Foundation has been working on the donation to the Crow Tribe for a couple of years, since tribal representatives first put in a request for help on the arbor project.
Two Leggins said Howell has been quick to respond to all sorts of inquiries and concerns, whether from tribal officials or individual tribal members with questions about railroad crossings, easements and other issues.
“It really means a lot” that BNSF has a person dedicated to dealing directly with tribes, Two Leggins said, and given that four BNSF people (the fourth was Ross Lane, regional director of public affairs, based in Billings) came to Crow Agency to make the presentation, “we know that they’re really sincere.”
Crow Native Days will run through Sunday, with rodeos scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and powwow finals on Sunday 6 p.m. For a complete list of events, go to the Crow Native Days Facebook page.
Running at the same time, though not directly tied to Crow Native Days, is the Real Bird family’s annual re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which was fought on June 25, 1876. There is also a Facebook page associated with that event.