The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation

Since time immemorial, the indigenous people of the Northern Plains have held a profound connection to the Crazy Mountains. The Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation knows this range as Awaxaawippiia, or Ominous Mountains. These spectacular mountains stand as one of the most dynamic and sacred places in our homeland, having provided our communities with knowledge, power and other blessings for a good life here in the mountains and prairies of the Yellowstone (Elk) River region.

As the U.S. Forest Service considers the future of the Crazies in its revision of the Custer Gallatin National Forest Plan, we are calling on the agency to deliver a plan that takes into consideration and honors the historical, cultural and spiritual significance that these mountains hold for the Apsaalooke Nation in particular and for all Montanans in general.

The renowned Apsaalooke Chief Plenty Coups spent four days in the summer of 1860 fasting and praying in the Crazy Mountains when he was 11 years old, as young Apsaalooke men had done for centuries. While on Crazy Peak, just a few short years before the Virginia City gold rush, and within view of the Yellowstone River portion of the Bozeman Trail, he received a foretelling. In a dream he saw the bison disappearing into the earth and being replaced by cattle, and of the land beingchanged forever by a powerful force, which was soon coming to his homeland.

An elder named Yellow Bear interpreted the young Plenty Coups’ dream as instructing the Apsaalooke people that it would be in their best interests to not make war on the soon to be arriving settlers and to negotiate agreements with them regarding the ownership and use of their homelands.

Guided by this prophetic vision, the Apsaalooke people had no violent conflicts with the non-Indians who passed through and eventually settled in the Yellowstone Valley. The rest, as they say, is history. A remarkable history, and an amazing story of the role in how the Crazy Mountains changed history and the lives of untold numbers of people. By any measure, the Crazy Mountains hold a special role in the history of the West and a sacred role in the survival of the Apsaalooke Nation.

Plenty Coups’ medicine dream is one of many that Apsaalooke people sought and received over many centuries in Awaxaawippiia – the Crazy Mountains. Although our tribe lost our legal ownership of the Crazies in 1868, we have not forgotten their power and the sacred role they have played and continue to play in the Apsaalooke community. We continue to turn to them for ceremonial guidance, to fast, pray, and pursue dreams there that help us renew and strengthen our lives.

Just as they were to Plenty Coups in 1860, the Crazy Mountains are an ancient source of power that modern day Apsaalooke people can draw upon to create a better future. That future depends on the medicine of the Crazy Mountains, and on future generations of leaders being able to draw upon it when it needed. That means that we must be able to fast and pray in ceremonial solitude as we have since time immemorial in the sacred places that define and embody the essence of our identity as Apsaalooke people and as human beings.

That’s why we’re asking the Forest Service to not expand mechanized and motorized travel in the Crazies. We are also asking the agency to not allow mining, the building of any new roads, construction of any new energy or utility corridors, or development of any new recreation sites or facilities.

In addition to the Crazy Mountains, we will be paying attention to how the Forest Service decides to manage the Pryor Mountains and other sacred areas in the Beartooth Mountains.

We hope that the Forest Service acknowledges and honors the Apsaalooke historical, cultural, and spiritual ties to these landscapes as well. All these sacred mountains in our homeland offer us a path into the future. We’re calling on the Forest Service to help us ensure that the future is a bright one.

Public comments on the Custer Gallatin National Forest plan revision must be received by June 6.

Shane Doyle, EdD, is a Crow Tribal member and the program coordinator at the American Indian Institute in Bozeman. A.J. Not Afraid is the Crow tribal chairman. Adrian Bird, Jr. it the Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Office lead monitor.