Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The interior of Chippewa Cree elder Videl Stump's tepee contains animal skins, drums and other items. In the center is a stone fire circle, next to which is a stone bowl used to capture the ashes of burning sweetgrass.
"Everything here has meaning," Stump said Thursday. "Even this," he added, gesturing to the earthen floor. He tries to share those meanings with everyone he can.
Sweetgrass is the name white people gave to the green strands, which are tied into a rope and burned - giving off a distinctive fragrance - in a small prayer ceremony before any meeting or speech involving tribal members. The tribe has another name for the plant, Stump said. They call it "the interpreter." "If you're called up to talk publicly, that helps you speak," he said. The plant has spiritual significance, he added.
"The Bible has many pages," Stump said. "The sweetgrass has many strands."
Stump wants to pass down the knowledge of Chippewa Cree spirituality, traditions and language. He said he will speak to anyone who will listen, whether they are young children, teenagers or adults. Being a member of the tribe is not required, he said.
The Tent of Many Voices, a National Park Service exhibit traveling in tandem with the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery II bicentennial celebration, is a great opportunity for Stump and others to do just that.
The four-day event begins today at the Sybil Sangrey Colliflower Memorial Arena near Box Elder and runs through Monday. Each day's schedule is packed with educational programs and demonstrations intended to celebrate and advance the understanding of Native American heritage, history and culture. There will be lessons on traditional games, tribal humor, music, dance, clothing, Native American sign language, the history of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and more. Events are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
Visitors will also get a taste of traditional cuisine Saturday evening during a buffalo feed.
The purpose of the exhibit is to show Lewis and Clark's journey of exploration from a different perspective, said Dick Basch, an American Indian liaison for Corps of Discovery II and a member of the Clatsop tribe of the Pacific Northwest.
"The point is to not only look at the Corps from the boat in the river," Basch said. "Look at it through the eyes of the people along the river shore."
Lewis and Clark constructed a fort on land his ancestors inhabited. It was the first permanent structure in the area and the first instance of the U.S. government exercising its power among his people, he said.
"It really impacted tribes in so many ways," Basch said. "Now we're getting the opportunity to tell that story. This is a good opportunity for tribes to share their history, their culture and what's important to them.
"It gives people an opportunity to really hear tribal stories and traditions," he added. "That's a really good bridge. People don't often have a chance to meet their neighbors. That was the goal of the Tent of Many Voices, and it's working."
This weekend's event has at least one direct tie to the original Corps of Discovery. Merle Tendoy, who is sharing the duty of camp crier with Lloyd Top Sky, is a descendant of Sacagawea, the Shosone guide who had a historic impact on the explorers' journey. Tendoy is part Shosone and part Chippewa Cree. He said the experience of being a part of the commemoration is "extraordinary." He also was honored when the federal government minted a gold dollar coin with his ancestor's image.
"I was very proud that they selected the woman who showed them the way," Tendoy said. "I hope the U.S. government will continue to see how much influence the Indians had with those first explorers."
The Tent of Many Voices gives the Chippewa Cree another opportunity to share their story with those who will listen, Rocky Boy Tourism project operations manager Annette Sutherland said.
"It's a pretty interesting and unique history," she said.
The Chippewa were woodland Indians who inhabited areas now known as Wisconsin and Minnesota. Cree peoples lived in Canada. The groups mingled in Montana and began to intermarry, and there is no longer a distinction between the two, Sutherland said. The Chippewa Cree was the first tribe to successfully lobby the federal government for sovereignty, she said. Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation was created in 1916 by order of President Woodrow Wilson.
The Tent of Many Voices is not only an opportunity for the tribe to educate outsiders, it's also a chance for elders to pass down traditions to younger tribal members. Without that education, the tribe's culture may disappear forever.
"This is a good opportunity to have the elders mingle with the young people and share the traditions," Sutherland said. "There are certain members of our tribe that are experts in their area, and they share that knowledge here."
One such tradition is tribal games. There will be several lessons this weekend, including one by Stump and his wife, Ruby, today at 2 p.m.
"We're trying to bring them back up for younger people to learn again," Stump said. "They were almost forgotten."
There was a movement started by tribal elders from across the state in the 1980s to ensure the games weren't lost. There are more than 100 of them, Stump said, and they had a variety of purposes. Screaming games strengthen children's' lungs. Other games enhance movement and build strong children to grow up to be healthy adults. A hundred years ago, Stump said, there were no overweight Indians.
Stump says the lessons on culture, which he gives freely to anyone who wants to learn, are a continuation of what he gained from his ancestors.
"The old people, they weren't stingy with what they knew," he said. "That's why (Ruby and I) like to share, to anyone who wants it."
The events are located one mile east of U.S. Highway 87 at Box Elder.