Sunday, June 22, 2014

Meeting Chief Joe Medicine Crow

Chief Joe Medicine Crow
By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

In June 2010, I had the privilege of meeting Chief Joe Medicine Crow and attend the annual Plains Indians PowWow in Cody, Wyoming.  Chief Joe holds many titles, he is a tribal historian, an anthropologist, an educator, as well as a decorated World War II veteran. In 2009, President Obama presented Chief Joe the Presidential Medal of Freedom–the nation’s highest civilian honor.  At the ceremony, he even sang a song for the President, and sang it again for us.

Chief Joe was the first of his tribe to graduate from college and was studying for an advanced degree in anthropology before volunteering for the Army and being sent to Europe during World War II.  During the war, he was able to complete all of the four tasks needed to become a Crow War Chief.  As a scout he led several successful war parties deep behind enemy lines, he stole German horses, he disarmed an enemy, and he touched an enemy (counting coup) without killing him.  He is the last Crow to acheive this and be considered a Chief.

Cheif Joe Medicine Crow and Dr. Herman Viola
When we met Chief Joe, he began by simply saying “Greetings – Welcome to Crow Country!   My people and the neighboring tribe welcome you with the opening of a sacred pipe.  Point pipe to mother earth that we may follow good trails.  To the four directions of the wind and ask that you bring us good weather today and the following summer and winter.”-- “White man you have now come to the Crow country.”  The stories he told us included the Crow history and that of Heart Mountain.  We were all in awe of him.

After spending time with Chief Joe in the morning, I was able to attend the Cody Powwow in the afternoon.  The Powwow is a celebration and takes place on the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum grounds. During the Powwow you will see dances, hear drums and songs that show off the various Plains Indians cultures.  The Powwow takes place on land that was intentionally bought and used for the yearly event.  We learned from Chief Joe that the powwow is a way for various Plains Indians to come together and celebrate with family and friends.

The annual Plains Indian Museum Powwow attracts more than 42 tribes from across the U.S. Not only can visitors see and experience the Powwow through dances and songs but also through the crafters.  I did a great deal of shopping from the various vendors with their authentic Native American arts and crafts.  I also spent time at the Learning Tipi.

As great as the day was, the greatest moment of the Powwow was when Chief Joe Medicine Crow invited the group of teachers I was with to join him in a traditional dance.  According to Dr. Herman Viola, our lead historian and personal friend to Chief Joe, this was such a rare invite that he had never seen such an offering made before.

For more information:
Chief Joe Medicine Crow's book Counting Coup
Buffalo Bill Center of the West Powwow

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