Apsáalooke Social and Family Structure, By Dale D. Old Horn and Tim McCleary, Pages 31-46.

An Introduction to Apsáalooke Ideology

The Bíiluuke native ideology as reflected in its expression of its thought and philosophy is best characterized as being inclusive. They believe that all creation is of God and that no part of creation exists outside of God’s realm. And since everything exists because of God’s creation then nothing is excluded. All things exist because they were created by God. Nothing exists outside the creation of God.

According to the Euro-American belief statement there seems to be a dilemma about God’s omnipotence. Since omnipotent means all powerful, it seems that God has power over all things and God created everything. This is exactly what the Apsáalooke say in their belief statement - God created everything including good and evil and therefore, also has the power to make it cease to exist.

There is no entity in all of creation that could equal the power of God. But yet the Euro-American would talk about a struggle over souls between God and the Devil. In the Apsáalooke worldview there could be no struggle, because the word struggle presupposes like strength and power. God is too powerful for this to occur.

Since all things come from God the Bíiluuke also believe that the power from God permeates all creation, and that the Creator placed power in all things. This is why the Bíiluuke believe in intercessionary spirits or agents of God. So for the Apsáalooke it is not unusual to say and believe that everything has a spirit. This belief further states that the power of God is shown and given to fortunate blessed individuals through seven entities. These seven entities are: the heavens, air, fire earth, water, plants, and creatures.

The Apsáalooke believe that the power that is placed in the heavens includes the sun which is called the Old Man, Isáahkaxaalia, the moon, which is called the Old Woman, Káalaxaalia, and the stars, ihké. The Old Man is believed to be the center of wisdom, while the Old Woman is believed to control conception and livelihood. Within the cosmogony there are several constellations that have religious interpretation and history. The stars are all sacred but one constellation that is prominent in a more pervasive fashion is the Big Dipper that the Apsáalooke call Ihka Sáhpua, Seven Stars, and Iipchalapaachuoo, The Place Where The Pipe Is Pointed. Ihka Sáhpua is the place that the Seven Sacred Brothers, Akbachakúpe Sápua, the Seven Sacred Bulls, Bishée Chíilape Sápua, and the Seven Sacred Rams, Iisaxpúatahche Sáhpua reside. Ihka Sáhpua is important because its symbolism appears in the configurations of certain societies.

The power of air is also found in the wind, the clouds, and in thunder and lightning. The sacredness of water is also found in what the Bíiluuke call Báakkaawile, Above Water. This is snow, sleet, hail, rain, and mist. When the Apsáalooke speak of creatures they include all that moves of its own volition. This includes reptiles, birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and everything else that moves on its own accord.

Spiritual symbolizations are also important to the Apsáalooke. The numbers four, seven, ten, and thirteen are very important in the spiritual beliefs of the Bíiluuke. The number four represents the four seasons and the four directions. Of the four directions, East represents the new day and new hope, the Apsáalooke say Ammilasiia baapé hilaake alahua, baahiilaaké alahúa, That which the new day comes, that of which new things come. South, Bíawaksalakoochihte, is eternal summer. West, Ammiliiwaxpe, is the place where the sun sets. This is the place where the deceased have gone. The North, Báalaaalakoochihte, is the eternal winter. Four also represents the four seasons. The four Seasons are: Bíawakusse, Spring; Bíawakshe, Summer; Basée, Fall; Báalee, Winter. The four seasons are important and each is believed to have a spirit.

Four is also represented by the Four Sacred Arrows given to Alúutixbaalia, the young boy that was taken by the Little People. Alúutixbaalia was given four arrows colored white, yellow, blue, and red. He had four sacred arrows when he returned home to the Apsáalooke. These arrows are now in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution. Each arrow was a different color. One was white, which is related to sustenance; one was yellow, which was used for defense against evil creatures that were stronger than man; one was blue, which was used for victory in battle; and one was red, which was intended for the annihilation of an enemy. According to oral history, the red arrow was never used.

The number seven is also important to the Apsáalooke. Seven is represented in the Seven Sacred Buffalo Bulls. The Seven Sacred Buffalo Bulls are: Chíilapish, The Bull; Aashiisássaash, Horns Turned Forward; Iaxaapahúsh, Many Thin Haired Places In His Hide; Chíilapaakkeekoohuush, Bull That Reaches The Near Bank; Chíilapbaalaaxaachish, Crazy Bull; Chíilapbaaalaxaxileetash, Brave Bull; Chíilapkalishtachiash, Young White Bull. Humachíish, Connected Bones was an enemy of the Seven Sacred Bulls. The Seven Buffalo Bulls are credited with giving to the Apsáalooke the Seven Sacred Pipes through Buffalo Woman, Bishéewiash.

There are also the Seven Sacred Rams. They are discussed in the story about the abandoned boy named Big Metal - the Seven Sacred Rams saved this young boy. They are: IisaxpĂşatahcheesh, Big Horn; IisaxpĂşatahcheechiilapish, Big Horn Ram; ItbuuxkĂşpish, Cupped Hooves; AlahchaxĂ­ssaash, Never Slips; Ootchiashdiilish, Walks At Night; Iischiiashchiash, White Face And Horns; Uuwatisaash, Big Metal.

White Face And Horns was the oldest of the Seven Sacred Rams and he was also their announcer. The chief of the Seven Sacred Rams was Big Metal. The young boy was found by two bighorn sheep lambs named HĂ©elahkeetaawasaash, Runs Along The Cliff, and IisaxbĂşatacheewiash, Big Horn Woman.

Seven is also represented by the seven brothers who were the brothers of Uuxbiash, Deer Woman. Deer Woman married Yellow Leggings and gave him the fourth tipi that he brought home to the Bíiluuke. The Seven Brothers had names, but over time all but two have been forgotten. The eldest was Iiwakkilúush and the youngest was Ischéenmuluxpiwishe, Juniper On The Bridge Of The Nose. Each of the Seven Brothers had attributes that were outstanding. The eldest was a very intelligent individual, and then of the others one had wisdom, another was very eloquent, another was very strong, another was a very fast runner, another had stamina, and another was very humorous. One day the seven brothers came home and found Yellow Leggings married to their sister. They all teased him except for the youngest one. He told his brothers, "I am a Bíiluuke and I respect my brother-in-law, so I\'ll give him my pet, the mountain lion". From the actions of Ischéenmuluxpiwishe, the Apsáalooke custom of respect and gift giving to a brother-in-law began.

The number ten is also sacred to the Apsáalooke and this derives from the belief that the moon or the Old Woman, Káalaxaliah contains the power of conception and the meaning of life and livelihood. The Apsáalooke say the number ten represents the ten lunar months from conception to birth.

The number thirteen is also related to the moon. The Apsáalooke say there are thirteen lunar months in a year. This is why the Sun Dance Lodge has twelve outer poles and one in the middle. The one in the middle represents the thirteenth lunar month. The poles are interconnected just as all things are connected throughout the entire year.

Genesis of the Apsáalooke

The Apsáalooke say the Creator, Iichikbaalia, created the Bíiluuke by instructing a duck to go down into a body of deep water. The duck followed the command, it went down and brought some mud from the bottom of the water. From this the Bíiluuke were formed. The Creator then breathed into his creation and for this reason Apsáalooke people say that speech or the word is sacred. Then he brought the Bíiluuke to a very clear spring and inside this spring they were shown a man with his bow drawn taught. The Creator said, "This is Bíiluuke I have made them to be small in number, but they will never be overcome by any outside force". The Apsáalooke say that neither man nor woman was made first, it is simply said that the Bíiluuke were created.

Sacred Ceremonies of the Apsáalooke

There are many important sacred ceremonies of the Apsáalooke. Two of which that are not practiced any longer are the Bear Song Dance and the Singing of the Cooked Meat. At the Bear Song Dance sacred songs of blessed individuals were sung and this would force these people to exhibit the sacred things they were hiding. They would be forced to make a public display of their power even though they were trying to keep it a secret. The Cooked Meat Singing was a marathon singing session.

The Seven Sacred Pipes Society is also almost lost today. The pipes were from the Seven Sacred Buffalo Bulls. There are only two members of the Sacred Pipe Society today. They hold the position of food servers. They are Lucy Wallace Real Bird and Laura Wallace Singer. There were a number of positions in the society such as singers, dancers, individuals who were allowed to open the bundles themselves, individuals who would have the role of smoking the pipes, and smudging them, but all of these positions are no longer practiced.

The Apsáalooke would put duck heads on each of the Seven Sacred Pipes to commemorate what the Creator did - to instruct a duck to go down into the waters to bring up the mud from which the Bíiluuke were made. The Apsáalooke placed duck heads on the Sacred Pipes because the first part of creation that touched the being of the Bíiluuke was the duck’s mouth.

The Sacred Tobacco Dance Society is based on the Sacred Tobacco Seed, Ihchihchiaee that means white unto itself. The seed is the reason the Apsáalooke are where they are today. Under the leadership of No Intestine and following his vision, which the Apsáalooke believe is the way the creator instructs them, he saw the place where the Ihchihchiaee grew. He was instructed that it grew in the mountains. He went West, where he was instructed he would find the mountain and finally after a long trek across the Plains, in a big circular fashion, he found Ihchihchiaee below Cloud Peak in the Big Horn Mountains. The Tobacco Society began when No Intestine was instructed to adopt his son into the society and they in turn adopted other people. A prophecy was given to him at that time which stated that if every living Apsáalooke became a member of the Tobacco Society then the Apsáalooke would be taken back by the creator. The Tobacco Society Dance is called Baasshússuua in the Apsáalooke language. Baasshússuua refers to soaking, since the seeds were soaked before they were planted. The Tobacco Society had many chapters that were called, Weasels, Otters, Elks, Birds, Eagles, Meadowlarks, Ducks, and so forth. Many of the chapters are no longer around but some are still functioning.

According to Apsáalooke beliefs the Creator instructed the Bíiluuke that they could make their needs known through wishes. The Apsáalooke today rely heavily upon wish making and that was the instruction from the Creator. It is said that the very first instruction that was given to the Bíiluuke was to make wishes and the second was the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge is central to the activity of the Apsáalooke in the spiritual aspect and is associated with all other religious rituals.

The sweat lodge has a tremendous amount of symbolism. The most common symbolism is the four rounds or times that door is raised. Each time the door is raised a prayer or wish is expressed. In the 1950s it was more common for the men in the sweat to express a dream and then conclude the dream telling with an expression such as, "May we progress to that day" or they would make a wish such as, "May we see the next spring, the next season". Today, because of the influence of the Native American Church and Christian religions, the men will say long prayers instead of the wish making and dream telling.

The sweat lodge ceremony is conducted in four rounds. In the first round a little water is sprinkled on the rocks, followed by pouring on four dippers of water, and then raising the door. The second round, seven dippers full are poured, and the door raised. The third round, ten are poured and the door is raised. The number poured on the last round depends on the sweat lodge way being used. In some four, six, or any number is poured. This represents infinity, the number ending the ceremony is uncounted.

In all of the religious practices of the Apsáalooke there seems to be an adoption, except for the sweat lodge where anyone can participate. An individual can be in attendance and will not be excluded from the different prayer rituals of the Apsáalooke. However, to be an owner of some of the rights of the other ceremonies a person has to be inducted or adopted as a member.

To be a member of the Tobacco Society or the Sacred Pipe Society or any of the others does not give one special privileges or special favor from God, they are no closer to God than any other person. The belief is that one can attain greater fortune in terms of wealth, well-being, good fortune, and health by being members.

In the end you do not become favored by God by being a member of these societies. The Apsáalooke refer to heaven as The Other Side, and since no one is excluded from there they will say, "Even on the Other Side there are homes".

The Apsáalooke have adopted some religions. The newest adopted religion of the Apsáalooke is the Sun Dance. It came from the Shoshone. According to the history of the Shoshone Sun Dance it was used originally as war medicine and since the Apsáalooke were among the enemies of the Shoshone, then a lot of that Sun Dance religion was against the Apsáalooke. But in the late 1930s there was visitation back and forth between the two peoples. Henry Old Coyote went down to the Shoshone country and went in the Sun Dance with them on numerous occasions. He received the very first Sun Dance medicine from the Shoshone as a Bíiluuke person. Then in 1941, John Trehero, a Shoshone Sun Dance Medicine Man, befriended William Big Day and they had the first Sun Dance Lodge on the Crow Indian Reservation.

The symbolism of the Sun Dance is focused on the spirit of the buffalo, the buffalo is the central figure. The sun and the eagle are also represented in this religion. The sun in Apsáalooke beliefs is the center of wisdom. When people are fasting right then they may have visitations from the spirit beings. These take on many different manifestations, they can be anything of creation.

The next most recent adopted religion of the Apsáalooke is the Peyote Way or Native American Church. It was brought to the Bíiluuke by an Apsáalooke man named Frank Bethune. He learned it from the Cheyenne and the Cheyenne in turn received it from the Kiowa and the Comanche when they were forced to live together in southwest Oklahoma.

The Peyote religion that was brought up here is very sacred to the Apsáalooke, as is all of these religions. The Peyote Ways that exist on the Crow Indian Reservation are; the Kiowa Way, the Apache Way, the Comanche Way, and the Alfred Wilson Way, which is primarily the Cheyenne Way.

Another adopted religion that was brought to the Apsáalooke around 1883 or 1884, is what the Hidatsa’s called the Grass Dance or the Tail Feathers Dance. The Sioux refer to it as Grass, Tail Feathers, or Omaha Dance, because it is said that this dance came from the Omaha. When the dance was brought to the Apsáalooke they were instructed by the Hidatsa of the spiritual nature of what the Lakota and the Hidatsa refer to as the Crow Belt, the Apsáalooke simply refer to it as the bustle. They also instructed the Apsáalooke about the ownerships that are the ritual positions given to those inducted into the religion. The people being adopted into it provide many gifts to those who induct them. These ownerships have been passed on and are still practiced today. The ownerships are: Baatawéewacheeitche, Hot Dance Chief; Akashiippéeliliia, Announcer; Ipche Akkuleé, Carrier of the Pipe; Biláxisee Akeé, Owner of the Drum; Biláxiliche Akeé, Owner of the Drum Stick; Iichíiliche Akeé, Owner of the Horse Whip; Akisbaaíipaatbishe, eight Tail Feather Owners (Seven Tail Feather Owners plus, Baaíipaatbacheeitche, Tail Feathers Chief); Iiwaawaaluushíhkua, Owner Of The Feeding Staff or Balasáhte Akeé, Owner Of The Split Staff; Cheéte Akchisshé, The One Who Wears The Wolf Pelt; and, Akbuuóoliche, the Woman Singers. There was a position called Chiisuhpashihpe Akáapiia, The Wearer Of The Black Tail Deer Necklace, but this one is no longer used.

The Apsáalooke have four additional Tail Feathers, because four of them were captured as war trophies before they received the ceremony from the Hidatsa. On three separate occasions the Apsáalooke fought the Lakota and captured these bustles. The first one captured was by an Apsáalooke war party under the leadership of Red Bear. The group did not know what the bustle was, but they brought it back as a war trophy. The second time, one was captured under the leadership of Bell Rock. And the third time two Tail Feathers were captured. This last time occurred near the present Black Lodge Hall, north of Crow Agency. This place is called Dúupkaatdappiio, Place Where Only Two Were Killed. The Apsáalooke warrior named Old Tobacco flushed and killed two Lakota warriors that had hidden in the brush. From these Lakotas, Old Tobacco captured two Tail Feathers that they were carrying.

In total, then, the Apsáalooke had four additional Tail Feathers, but they did not know what purpose they served. Then, when the Tail Feathers Dance was brought from the Hidatsa, the Apsáalooke figured out what these were and they added on the four war trophies. Therefore, the Apsáalooke use eight tail feathers today.

The Apsáalooke call this religion the Hot Dance, because when they received the dance from the Hidatsa they were instructed not to eat as poor people. This was in reference to the times when they could not get fresh meat. At those times, primarily winter time, the people would rely on the foods they had dried and stored, such as dried meat, pemmican, pulverized fruits and vegetables. So, what the Hidatsa’s were referring to, was to eat well, to eat fresh hot meat. The Apsáalooke therefore called this religion Baatawéelissuua, the Hot Dance.