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NATIVE AMERICAN FLAGS

The Crow Nation

In their own language, the Crow tribe of southeastern Montana call themselves Absaroka, or the "bird people". To the early French explorers and voyageurs, the Crow were called the "handsome men" because of their beautifully worked garments and the long flowing black hair that sometimes reached all the way to the ground. The name "Crow" came from crudely translating the term "Absaroka" into "Crow people" instead of "bird people" (ENAT, 76-78).

The flag of the Crow tribe is light blue and bears their tribal seal in the center. This is one of a half dozen flags originally reported by Dr. Whitney Smith in his "Flag Book of the United States". Like two others, the Cherokee and the Seminole, the current flag differs from the one reported some 25 years ago. The current seal bears much symbolism, starting at the bottom with the peace pipe.

The pipe was traditionally offered as a first placating step in any significant petition of the Crow people; an offer not to be refused by mortals. Above it is the "Sacred Medicine Bundle" (See also the Cheyenne River Sioux).

This bundle contains sacred tobacco seeds, tobacco being the only significant crop of the Crow. These particular seeds are believed to be the original and supernatural blessing of the Crow that led them to their present home (Lloyd Old Coyote, "Crow Tribal Emblem, pamphlet, undated).

Next in line is a "sweat lodge" a place of purification for both mind and body and a practice frequently employed prior to any major undertaking by the Crow (Note this use of the sweat lodge is widespread throughout Indians from the Northeast all the way to the southwest). The perfectly symmetrical tepee represents the values of a good home and the home of the Crow (ibid).

Behind the tepee are three mountain ranges, the Wolf Mountains, the Big Horn Mountains and the Pryor Mountains. The rays of the sun represent 12 of the original thirteen clans of the Crow. The thirteenth, the "Greasy Mouth" clan, commonly referred to as the sun worshipers, is represented by the sun itself (Frederick Turnsback, Director of Procurement, Crow Nation, letter dated Nov. 15, 1994) .

To either side is a Crow war bonnet, the one to the viewers left being larger. One represents the clan chiefs on the mother's side; the other the clan chiefs on the father's side. Both lend guidance, inspiration and protection to all tribal members.

The changes in the flag? They are slight. In the current flag there is a definite heavy black border separating the seal from the field of the flag. At the base of the seal that appeared in Dr. Smith's book (FBUS, 258) was a single white star at the base of the seal; this is now gone. The four lodge poles which represented the four seasons and four winds in Lloyd Old Coyote's design are now missing and lastly, the "Big Dipper" constellation which symbolized the "carrier of messages" has been removed. Despite its changes, the flag of the Crow continues to be one of the most striking examples of Native American flags.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603