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Apsaalooke [archive]

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The Crow Reservation is located in southcentral Montana, on the western border of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Approximately 75% of the Apsaalooke population live on the reservation.


The Crow call themselves Apsaalooke (ep-sah-lo-kay]), which means "Children of the Large-Beaked Bird." The bird they refer to is most likely a raven. Apsaalooke is a Siouan language of the Amerind family. About 85% of Apsaalooke still speak their native language as their mother tongue. They also have their own writing system (ammaalaatuua).


Some Apsaalooke people practice their traditional religion, others practice Christianity, or the peyote religion of the Native American Church. Some practice their respective religion exclusively, others are active in all three. Traditional Apsaalooke religious practices include the sweat lodge, vision quest, and the Sun Dance. They believe in a power that transcends the ordinary (Baaxpee) that comes from The One Who Has Made Everything (Akbaatatdia). Healers who possess medicine receive power from Akbaatatdia mediated through spirits known as Iilapxe (His Father). The Iilapxe are usually in the form of an animal, an inanimate object, or "Little People" (dwarf-like beings that inhabit mountainous areas). The Apsaalooke believe that all beings are emanations from The One Who Has Made Everything.


Matrilineal clans are the hub of Apsaalooke social life. One's clan can always be depended one to fulfill one's social and material needs. Though some Apsaalooke have completely abandoned their traditions with conversion to Christianity, one tradition all Apsaalooke still hold dear is the practice of honoring clan aunts and uncles (Aassahke). All the men and women of one's clan are considered an aunt or uncle. Men and women honor their clan aunts and uncles by showing them respect and deference, showering them with gifts on special occasions, and feasting them. In turn, the aunts and uncles praise their clan children's good deeds publicly and offer their prayers, protection, and guidance.


The Apsaalooke maintain a buffalo herd of 300 on the reservation and do a little farming and ranching. Unemployment is high on the reservation and most of the available jobs are with the BIA or at the Little Bighorn Casino. Some Apsaalooke find jobs with the mining industry, which is exploiting the vast coal deposits that lie under the eastern portion of the reservation.


The Apsaalooke and the Hidatsa are both descended from a tribe that lived in the "Land of the Lakes": the Winnepeg country of southeastern Manitoba. By the mid-16th century this ancestral tribe had begun to move West. When they reached the Missouri River they met the Mandan people and became semisedentary horticulturalists. According to Apsaalooke oral history, two leaders, Red Scout and No Vitals, each received a dream. In Red Scout's dream he was given a kernel of corn and told to plant it for his people. No Vitals was given a pod of tobacco seeds and told to migrate West to plant them. He was told that when the seeds flourished, his people would flourish. Several generations later, No Vitals' people migrated to the northern plains of Wyoming and Montana and fulfilled his vision by planting the sacred tobacco seeds. The people founded the Sacred Tobacco Society and the Apsaalooke nation was born. The Tobacco Society ritually plants and harvests the sacred tobacco plant that was given by Akbaatatdia as a symbol of regeneration and prosperity. According to prophecy when the sacred tobacco stops growing, the Apsaalooke people will cease to exist.


Frey, Rodney
1987 The World of the Crow Indians: As Driftwood Lodges. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.

Snell, Alma Hogan
2000 Grandmother's Grandchild: My Crow Indian Life. Becky Matthew, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

The Peoples of the World Foundation
2004 The Crow. Electronic document:, accessed August 23, 2008.

Additional Reading

 Crow Indians
 Crow Words
 Crow Legends
 Indian Reservations in Montana

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