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CORD aims to bridge cultural gap

BILLINGS, Mont. – The first Crow Off-Reservation District gathering was held March 21. “Let’s strike a CORD!” was the event motto.

Coordinator Calvin Walks Over Ice said CORD was established to create a recognized district for Crows living outside Crow Reservation boundaries whether they live in urban areas, out of state, or overseas.

Walks Over Ice said people wanted someone on the Crow tribal legislative body to represent Crow Indians living off the reservation so their concerns and needs could be met.

“It’s so that the Crows that live off of the reservation have a voice too and get equal representation.”

Walks Over Ice also hopes CORD will encourage more absentee voting and overall political involvement.

He presented the idea to the interim Tribal Chairman Cedric Black Eagle three weeks prior to the CORD event; Black Eagle was supportive because it would strengthen Crow tribal unity. Tribal Chairman Carl Venne, 62, died of natural causes Feb. 15.

Reno Charette is the Native American Studies Program coordinator at Montana State University-Billings. “Having this kind of organization helps us stay involved in our government. There are over 2,000 American Indian students enrolled in the Billings school district, and we need to keep them connected to our culture.”

Although it’s only a few minutes from the Crow Reservation, the hub city of Billings defines urban for Montanan Indians. When people from reservations move there for employment or higher education, it seems like a daunting task for some, as Charette has seen first-hand when students from reservations go to college.

“The main problems occur initially when a student comes into an urban environment and they have to go through a transition process. At the university we thought we needed to help them with that.”

So through Chief Dull Knife Community College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation – adjacent to the Crow Reservation – MSU-B is offering a pilot course in guiding people to social services like how to find housing or employment.

Homesickness is also a prevalent problem for students and faculty who have left the reservation to go to a four year university, and they will also try to help them through American Indian clubs and gatherings.

Charette made a deal with the university system to make Native American Studies a bachelor’s degree at MSU-B. It takes a foreign language requirement to get a bachelor of arts in this field of study. So in lieu of a typical European language, Charette thought it would be more relevant that students take classes like Crow Language I and II instead.

The head of Little Big Horn College, Dr. David Yarlott, said he would send Crow language teachers to Billings when funding comes through.

A lot of people move from the reservation because of the high level of unemployment, like entrepreneur Max Alden. He was discouraged from learning his native Crow language as a child, because his father said there would be less of a chance of him ever leaving the reservation if he did.

He now knows the Crow language is something important that he could be passing down to his children.

“Just as I’ve taken a risk and chance by opening up my own business, CORD is taking a chance in initiating a conference and off-reservation chapter,” Alden said. “Our goal is to try to bridge a gap in areas of language, culture and create an outreach program off of the reservation.”

Eleanor Kindness works for Native American Development Corporation which helps Natives get small business loans, among other things, to further the economic development of Indian-owned businesses in Montana and Wyoming.

She spoke of how Crows could help each other through CORD. “If one Crow is able to reach a personal goal, it’s a benefit to the whole tribe.”

Black Eagle said Crows needed to invest in off-reservation funds to help urban Indians, and that the tribe needed vice versa help from successful Crows.

“We need to bring all 12,000 Crows together to make prosperity happen.”