GREAT FALLS, Montana – An historic and traditional gifting of a Thunder Pipe and Thirsty Dance (Sun Dance) Song will be ceremonially transferred from the traditional chiefs of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Cree of North Dakota to the Little Shell Chippewa Cree of Montana. The historic ceremony and gifting is occurring in affirmation of the place the Little Shell Tribe holds within the circle of Aboriginal Nations on the Northern Plains of the United States and Canada. The Little Shell Tribe is the last unresolved circumstance on the Northern Plains from the Indian Wars of the 19th century.
“This is a time to give thanks to all those who have supported the Little Shell peoples,” said tribal chairman, Gerald Gray, Jr. in a news release. “This has been a struggle shared by many people, organizations, and well wishers throughout our homeland. The State of Montana is especially to be honored for stepping up, recognizing, and including us fully in state and tribal matters.” As prelude to the Little Shell Tribe’s Annual Shimowin (Powwow), the ceremony will include traditional oratory, the presenting of the visiting traditional chiefs credentials, a rare and ancient Pipe-stem Dance, the gifting ceremony of both the Thunder Pipe and the historic Many Eagle Set Thirsty Dance Song, and conclude with a traditional Give-away Ceremony by the Little Shell Tribe. Chairman Gray added that, “for the Little Shell, this is as significant as it comes. Reaffirming alliances of old and supercharging our cultural reinvigoration is as meaningful as it gets.”
The ceremony will take place at the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. It will be performed by Turtle Mountain traditional chiefs Bill Morin, hereditary Head Chief Little Shell of the Pembina Chippewa Cree, Merle St. Claire, immediate past chairman of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Cree, and A. R. “Braids” LaFromboise, renown tribal artist and ceremonialist. All three men are Nepaquashimowin (Thirsty Dance/Sun Dance) bundle holders and traditional culture bearers. They represent the traditional lineage of Chief Little Shell’s people yet residing on the Turtle Mountain Reservation (North Dakota) who were forced out of the 1892 McCumber Agreement.
One hundred and twenty-two years ago, the Little Shell Tribe was excluded from the 1892 McCumber Agreement (Ten Cent Treaty) and their rightful place among their direct relatives, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Cree of North Dakota, and again from their direct relatives among the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in 1916. Montana’s Little Shell people have courageously, consistently, and convincingly engaged the United States government over this time, pressing for recognition of their Aboriginal, human, and civil rights as First Peoples. Against all odds, including ethnic cleansing, subversion, misunderstanding, and federal neglect, the Little Shell Tribe have persisted.
In 1892, Chief Little Shell, Head Chief of the Nehiyaw Pwat Confederacy/Iron Alliance (consisting of Cree, Chippewa, Assiniboine, and Michif bands), negotiated with the U. S. government for all his peoples within their traditional historic homeland to be included upon lands reserved by the Pembina Treaty of 1863. The federal government reneged on its promises, illegally and unjustly diminishing the reserved lands, which are today named the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota, leaving out of the settlement all those tribal peoples who have become known in Montana as Rocky Boy’s and the Little Shell Chippewa Cree Tribes.
Since 1892, Montana’s Little Shell Tribe has been on its epic trail, pressing the federal government to honor its obligations to them. It is since that time that today’s Little Shell people have slowly and devastatingly suffered cultural attrition. For the purpose of rekindling the common fire around which the Turtle Mountain, Rocky Boy’s, and Little Shell people sit, the ceremony at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park will take place.
The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Cree Indians of Montana have recently made significant strides along their trail of persistence. Yet, due to generations of political and cultural fracturing resulting from a federal campaign of disregard and negligence, the Little Shell people have undergone immense cultural loss. The root peoples to whom the Little Shell are related, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Cree, seek to assist in the cultural renewal and resurgence of Montana’s Little Shell. Key to the revitalization of tribal culture is for the Little Shell Tribe to possess the tools and symbols of traditional tribal authority, that is to say, a Thunder Pipe and accompanying ceremonial song.
The Pipe-stem Dance Ceremony at the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park will take place at one of the North America’s great historic Aboriginal camp sites along the Old North Trail: August 23, First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, Ulm, Montana, 9:30 am.