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What is the Crow Nation?

By Brenda Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Crow Nation is a Native American tribe classified as a Plains Indian tribe. Their name, pronounced Absaroka or Apsaalooke in their native tongue, means people of the large beaked bird. To the white settlers, this description sounded like a crow, and the tribe eventually adopted that term as their legal title. The majority of the Crow live on a large reservation in the state of Montana. Unlike many tribes who have lost their native tongue, Crow is still the first language taught to most children living on the reservation.

At one time, members of the Crow Nation lived in mud huts in settlements in North Dakota where they farmed and hunted. According to oral tradition, they had a falling out with a related tribe called the Hidatsa over buffalo, and the Crow migrated west. Some settled north of the Yellowstone River in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Montana and became known as Mountain Crow. Other members of the tribe settled further South along the Big Horn, Powder and Wind River Valleys, and were identified as River Crow.

After the Crow Nation moved west, they abandoned the settled life with huts and farms and adopted a migratory lifestyle that followed the game and the seasons. Like other Plains Indians, the Crow used tipis, tents made from long poles and hides which could be assembled and disassembled quickly. They primarily hunted, fished and collected wild plants and nuts for food. They were known for their horsemanship and for the brilliant dyes and quill work which decorated their costumes and blankets.

The tribe had a clan system made up of six distinct clans; the Big Lodge clan, the Greasy Mouth or Sore Lip clan, the Ties the Bundle clan, the Whistling Water clan, the Bad War Deeds clan, and the Piegan or Treacherous clan. As with most tribes, these clans were matrilineal, which means the children belonged to the clan of their mother. When a couple married, the groom would move in with the family of his wife, and women were generally given the same status in the tribe as their husband.

As white settlers flocked to the Northwest, the Crow originally offered resistance. Chief Plenty Coups, the last traditional chief of the Crow Nation, soon realized that resistance would not stop the white invasion. He believed that the white man would remain, so it was important to the future of the Crow Nation to befriend the newcomers. As a result, the Crow were the first of the Plains Indians to conduct peace negotiations with the white settlers, and many Crow warriors served as scouts for the army and fought with the Americans against their old enemies, the Sioux.

A treaty in 1888 established a reservation in south-central Montana between the Wyoming border and the city of Billings, MT. About three-fourths of tribal members live on the reservation which is one of the largest in the nation. There are vast coal reserves under the land, and the tribe has opened one coal mine which provides jobs and income for the Crow Nation.

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