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Chapter 3.9: Famous Speeches

Apsáalooke Writing Tribal Histories Project

The following historic speeches by Apsáalooke chiefs and warriors are the ones most often discussed in the Crow community today. Nonetheless, they represent only a small fraction of the voluminous oratory of the Apsáalooke Nation.

The first speech was given by Eelápuash/Chief Sore Belly around 1830. (As cited in The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. Washington Irving, 1783-1859).

The Crow Country is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you travel, you will fare worse. If you go to the south, there you have to wander over great barren plains; the water is warm and bad, and you meet the fever and ague. To the north it is cold; the winters are long and bitter, and no grass; you cannot keep horses there, but must travel with dogs. What is a country without horses! On the Columbia they are poor and dirty, paddle about in canoes, and eat fish. Their teeth are worn out; they are always taking fishbones out of their mouths. Fish is poor food. To the east, they dwell in villages; they live well; but they drink the muddy water of the Missouri—that is bad—a Crow’s dog would not drink such water. About the forks of the Missouri is a fine country; good water; good grass; plenty of buffalo. In summer, it is almost as good as the Crow country; but in the winter it is cold; the grass is gone; and there is no salt weed for the horses. The Crow Country is exactly in the right place. It has snowy mountains and sunny plains; all kinds of climates and good things for every season. When the summer heats scorch the prairies, you can draw up under the mountains, where the air is sweet and cool, the grass fresh, and the bright streams come tumbling out of the snow banks. There you can hunt the elk, the deer, and the antelope, when their skins are fit for dressing; there you will find plenty of white bears and mountain sheep. In the autumn, when your horses are fat and strong from the mountain pastures, you can go down into the plains and hunt the buffalo, or trap beaver on the streams. And when winter comes on, you can take shelter in the woody bottoms along the rivers; there you will find buffalo meat for yourselves, and cottonwood bark for your horses; or you may winter in the Wind River valley, where there is salt weed in abundance. The Crow Country is exactly in the right place. Everything good is to be found there. There is no country like the Crow Country.

The next speech by Sits In The Middle Of The Land is the often quoted metaphorical piece about the area of Crow Country. He originally gave this speech at the Ft. Laramie Treaty negotiations of 1868 and later repeated it at a council held at Crow Agency, Montana in August of 1873, when it was recorded and published in the 1873 Annual Report of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs.

When we set up our lodge poles, one reaches to the Yellowstone, the other is on the White River (Milk River), another one goes to Wind River, the other lodges on the Bridger Mountains. This is our land.

Another version of this speech, possibly the one originally given at Ft. Laramie, was cited in Peter Nabokov Two Leggings: The Making of a Crow Indian Warrior:

I have but one tipi. It has but four poles. It is held to the ground by big rocks. My east lodge pole touches the ground at the Black Hills, my south, the ground at the headwaters of the Wind River, my west, the snow-capped Absaroke and Beartooth Range, the north lodge pole resting on the Bearpaw Mountains.

The next speech was provided by the famous Apsáalooke military scout Curley at a Congressional meeting in Washington DC in 1912 to discuss the opening of the Crow Indian Reservation to settlement by non-Indians:

The soil you see is not ordinary soil—it is the dust of the blood, the flesh and the bones of our ancestors. We fought and bled and died to keep other Indians from taking it, and we fought and bled and died helping the Whites. You will have to dig down through the surface before you can find nature’s earth, as the upper portion is Crow. The Land as it is, is my blood and my dead; it is consecrated, and I do not want to give up any portion of it.

The next speeches were made by the last principal leader of the Apsáalooke, Chief Plenty Coups, whose home on the Crow Indian Reservation is now a Montana State Park. Plenty Coups, as the most influential and the last living of the transitional era chiefs often counseled and harangued his people:

You, who once were brave, have turned into pigs. I am ashamed of you. Self-pity has stolen your courage, robbed you of your spirit and self-respect. Stop mourning the old days, they are gone with the buffalo. Go to your sweatlodges and cleanse your bodies… then clean out your dirty lodges and go to work!

Although Plenty Coups wished the Apsáalooke to become farmers and to work in the whiteman’s sense, he also wished them to continue to follow Native practices. He told the young people:

I would have you cling to the memories of your fathers. I would have you still go up onto the mountain and see visions so that your hearts may be clean and strong.

Plenty Coups’ most oft quoted sound-bite deals with education. Like many of the transitional era leaders, Plenty Coups encouraged Apsáalooke children to attend school since he believed this would benefit his people:

Education is your most powerful weapon. With education you are the white man's equal; without education you are his victim.

However, when making the statement in the Apsáalooke language, he is remembered for stating:

Baaishtashíile ammaaéhche iiwaa awássahcheewailuuk Ammaaéhche éwahkuulak baaawássahcheewiolak baleetáak
With what the whiteman knows he can oppress us. If we learn what he knows, then he can never oppress us again.

Was something lost in the translation? Does the Apsáalooke language statement mean the same thing as the “oft quoted” statement? From these examples, is there a difference between English and Apsáalooke oratory?

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