In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Darrin N. Old Coyote—I'm the 21st chairman of the Crow Nation. I am also a member of the Piegan clan and a child of the Ties in a Bundle and Whistling Water.
Can you share with us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?
My Crow name is Ishbilaxxe Itche, which translates as His Drum Is Good.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal chairman?
The duties of the chairman of the Executive Branch are mandated in the Constitution adopted in 2001 and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Interior, which states:
1. to appoint Cabinet members including a Comptroller who shall be bonded, Chief Executive Officer and other such Cabinet positions adopted by Tribal Ordinance, Resolution or Policy or who shall serve in subordinate positions to the Tribal Officials;
2. to appoint committee members to Executive Branch committees;
3. to delegate, at his prerogative, his authority, in writing, to the Vice-chairman when the Chairman is unavailable. …
These are a few of the duties, but not all.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead?
The economic condition of the Crow is very poor. Jobs number few. There are vast resources that can be developed to improve economic conditions of the Crow. Also, growing up in need and further realizing there needs to be a voice for the young, as well as the older ones, and gaining experience working with young and older alike gave me a road map to seek ways to help the Crow people.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
Growing up in the home of my grandmother and learning her principles of life and shared experiences by elder family members.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
I am a sixth generation descendant of Sits in the Middle of the Land, principal chief of the Crow and negotiator of the Ft. Laramie Treaty, also the descendant of great warriors and leaders numbering many.
Where is the Crow Nation located?
The Crow Indian Reservation is located in southeast central Montana, bordering Montana and Wyoming. The Crow agency, our capital, is on the reservation.
Where are the Crow people originally from?
Oral history is the Crow are descendants of the Hidatsa, living in the Woodlands in or around the Great Lakes region.
What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share?
Ancestor was principal chief who negotiated the treaty with the United States known as the Fort Laramie Treaty. The Crow still live today within the geographical points designated by this forefather.
Approximately how many members are in your nation?
Duly enrolled members of the Crow number 13,000-plus.
What are the criteria to become a member?
A person has to be of one-quarter quantum of Crow blood.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate to be fluent speakers?
Crow speakers number less than fifty percent. Of these, approximately seventy percent are fluent Crow Speakers.
What economic enterprises does the Crow Nation own?
The Crow are joint partners in the development of their solid and fluid minerals. Big Metal Coal Co. LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cloud Peak Energy Inc., established for the purpose of developing and mining high-quality sub-bituminous coal on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Big Metal and the Crow Tribe signed an Exploration Agreement and an Option to Lease Agreement on January 24, 2013, during a signing ceremony in Crow Agency. These agreements were approved by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and provide Big Metal the opportunity to explore and define up to 1.4 billion tons of in-place coal in the southwestern portion of the reservation and to potentially exercise rights to lease all or portions of this coal for mining, subject to additional regulatory approvals.
If Big Metal exercises its options to lease, mining on the reservation likely would be supported by the existing operations and rail load-out infrastructure at Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek Mine, which is located in Montana just off the reservation to the east. High-quality, low-sulfur Crow coal could meet demand for electric generating stations in the U.S. or Asia, helping to provide a safe, reliable, and affordable source of energy and significant economic opportunity for the Crow Tribe.
To read the full interview with Tonkawa Tribal President Don Patterson visit the NMAI series here.