By Tim Leeds
ROCKY BOY Lloyd Top Sky said the Great Seal of the Chippewa Cree Tribe has only existed for eight years, but has already become major symbol at the Rocky Boy Reservation.
Top Sky, who has an extensive background in the tribe's history, traditions, and symbolic art, designed the tribal seal. He said the seal was officially adopted by the tribe in 1992.
He said work on the seal began in the early 1990's when Tribal Councilman Earl Arkinson and the late Rocky Stump, tribal chair at the time, approached him with the idea of creating a symbol for the tribe. He said their idea at the time was to try to organize the tribe through representation of themselves.
Top Sky said most nations and many Native American tribes have some symbol, such as a flag or seal, to identify and represent themselves. He said their group wanted to do the same for the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
Their tribe is actually one of the younger, newer tribes, Top Sky said. It began with the formation of the Rocky Boy's Reservation in 1916, but the culture of the Chippewa and Cree tribes go back into history, he said.
Top Sky said their goal was to find the principles their tribe relies on in tribalism, and find how they are incorporated into their traditions, customs, and daily life. He said just as the Montana Flag has elements to show what is important to the residents of the state, they tried to create a symbol to identify what is important to members of their tribe, what is sacred to them.
Top Sky said he tried to find symbols that members of the Chippewa Cree tribe could all identify with in the same way. He said he wanted to find elements that are the foundation of the tribe from the beginning of time to today, and how they are incorporated into the tribe's traditions and customs.
One goal in creating the seal was to represent the veterans of the tribe, Top Sky said. He said many members have served the country in wars, including World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam Conflict. These soldiers represented their tribe as well as the United States, he said, and they deserve their own symbol to represent the sovereignty of the tribe.
The process was initiated for the entire tribe, Top Sky said, not just for the tribal council. He said the seal is for the children, the veterans, the elders, the education system, for all.
Top Sky said every item on the seal is representative of some aspect of Chippewa Cree life and culture.
In a statement dated Feb. 8, 1991, Top Sky said"The Chippewa and Cree have come from two powerful nations of the American continent. Each tribe has come together to form the present day Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. This reservation was created for the Chippewa and Cree Tribes to live and enjoy this country, to maintain our language, culture, traditions and values. Also, to accept the modern qualities that would prosper the Tribe in the future.
"The picture of this seal represents the circle of life on this reservation. Baldy Butte, the sacred mountain of the Tribe; the sun representing life, rising from the east to greet the Sun spirit each morning from our homes and to wish for good health and life.
"Also, the sun's rays represent the fifteen Sacred Grass Dance Chiefs who are active in preserving the culture of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. The sun also represents the Sacred Grass Dance Drum of the Tribe.
"The Sacred Four Bodies writing under the sun represents good health and good fortune for the Tribe, that we can prosper into the future in education, as well as our customs and traditions integrated into the schools of Rocky Boy.
"The Eagle, long time sacred bird of the Indian people, strength, wisdom, bravery and honor, are all elements conceived from the sacred bird that represents the thunder and lightning of the sacred sky.
"The Buffalo, a source of food and shelter for the Indian for many years, also a sacred animal in the universe representing the source of life, a sundance element, being the main power of its presence.
"Bear Paw Tracks: these tracks represent the Bear Paw Mountains where the Chippewa Cree make their present home. Also, the sacred animal, the Bear' who is highly regarded as a powerful spirit of the Tribe.
"The Tepee, where all values and customs are derived from, the life and traditions that we, as the Chippewa Cree, have held since the creation of the Redman.
"The Sacred Pipes, held by our last official chiefs of the Chippewa and Cree: Chief Rocky Boy and Chief Little Bear.
"The Braid of Sweetgrass, which is an element of communication to the Creator and the Spirits.
"Eagle Feathers, the nine eagle feathers representing the nine elected chiefs of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee."
Top Sky said after the work on the seal was done in the latter part of 1991, Stump approved it and they submitted it to the Tribal Council. The council approved it as the official seal of the tribe in 1992, he said.
The seal has become a commonly used symbol since then, Top Sky said. He said it has been incorporated into the symbol of the tribal police department, used by the health service at the reservation, the education system, the college, and is the symbol of the local government.
Arkinson, now chief of the tribal police at the reservation, said the police uses the seal on their uniforms, and also on their police cars. He said cars recently purchased by the department do not have the seal yet, but he expects them to be put on the vehicles soon.
There is a large reproduction of the seal by local artist Jesse Henderson at the health service on the reservation.
Carol Henderson, the artist's mother and the contract health specialist for the tribe, said she likes the work done on the seal.
"There's a lot of symbolism in it," she said. "What I'd like to see is a big version of it at the highway with a light on it. Use it as a marker (for the highway to the reservation)."
Top Sky said the seal is used at the annual pow-wow, and the flag was invited to the National Indian Education Conference at Oklahoma City last fall as a representative flag.
Top Sky learned traditional art from older members of his family, he said. He said he learned how to read pictographs and pictoglyphs. He was given the right to paint sacred symbols on tepees by his father, Top Sky Chief Goes Out, a traditional man of the tribe, he said.
Top Sky said this background taught him most of what he knows in Native American symbolic artwork. He said since most artifacts are housed in museums and collections, he now reproduces some Native American artwork and artifacts to make them available to Native Americans and collectors.
Top Sky said the seal was not something they thought up overnight. He said it was a long time dream, but it took the tribal council to approve it and make it official.
At the end of his 1991 statement, Top Sky wrote "In conclusion, these elements of the Great Seal are formed together to represent the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation of Montana, in values, traditions, and customs, so greatly valued by the Chippewa Cree People.