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What is the Crow Tribe?

By Eli Kalsky
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Crow tribe, otherwise known as the Crow Nation or Absaroka, is a tribe of Native Americans that historically lived in the Yellowstone River valley. In modern times, the tribe moved to a reservation south of Billings, Montana, where it is the fifth-largest Native American reservation in the United States (US). Some experts argue that the Crow tribe was originally from the area around the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, or possibly from Wisconsin, while other academics believe that the tribe came from the Winnipeg area of Manitoba. The Crow tribe was once part of the Hidatsa tribe, and later split into a distinct group.

Located in south-central Montana, the Crow Indian Reservation shares a border with the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. The Crow tribe is completely self-governed and has its own laws, police, and social services systems. Although the tribe is autonomous, its members are also US citizens and are subject to American laws. Historically, a council of chiefs was selected to head the tribe based on previous war honors. In contemporary Crow society, however, the leaders are elected by the tribal members.

The Crow tribe traditionally lived in tipis — a type of tent that was covered with bison skins. These tipis were built in such a way that they were easy to assemble and disassemble, since the Crow had to move frequently to follow the bison herds. The men and women of the Crow nation mostly followed traditional gender roles, as did most American Indians. Men were responsible for hunting and defending the tribe while women took care of the family and maintained the family’s tipi.

Both men and women participated in art, music, and storytelling. Women generally wore long deerskin dresses and men wore breechcloths and leather leggings. Both wore moccasins for shoes. After the Europeans arrived in America, the Crow incorporated various European elements of dress, such as cloth dresses and vests.

The modern Crow tribe is a vibrant community that takes pride in fostering understanding about the Crow Nation and its history. They boast a membership of about 11,000 people. About 85 percent of reservation dwellers speak Crow as their first language.

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