By Jocelyn Norman, Bello & Windy Boy
Archeology and Native American Traditional Cultural Properties usually are not the first words that come to people’s minds when they think of FEMA. However, those were key concerns after recent repeat landslides on the Rocky Boy Reservation of the Chippewa Cree Tribe in Montana.
The Chippewa Cree requested funding through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to repair and stabilize a side of Camp Crier’s Hill. In the early days of the reservation, from 1916 into the 1930s, a tribal “crier” stood on the basalt outcropping there to broadcast tribal news. The crier, primarily Ojibway Peter Kennewash, would usually begin with a song or prayer, and then shout the news in Chippewa. (“Ojibway” and “Chippewa” are alternative English versions of the same root name. The Ojibway/Chippewa are the largest tribe north of Mexico.) The unique acoustics of the area let the crier’s voice resound a quarter-mile or more in several directions through the valley.
Due to the the hill’s historical significance, the tribe wanted to mitigate the impact of the stabilization project and ensure all the National Historic Preservation Act requirements were met.
FEMA’s Region VIII Denver office sent Charles Bello, environmental/historic preservation specialist, to work with Alvin Windy Boy Sr., the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, and Bob O’Boyle, the Chippewa Cree Tribal Archeologist. Bello had previously worked with Windy Boy and describes him as a respected elder, traditionalist, and very good friend.
The group decided to build retaining walls that blend into the surroundings of the 320 square meter area. Plans also call for avoiding the east side of the hill altogether to prevent any damage to nearby sites of particular significance. Traditional medicine plants grow in the area, and natives put prayer flags there and pray or sing, including songs the town crier once sang. There are also remains of a flour mill the tribe ran from the 1920s into the 1950s.
In addition to the construction, a separate HMGP grant will be used to create a training video on cultural awareness for everyone who works construction jobs on the reservation. The video will identify aspects of traditional culture, detail why different resources are important, and explain how tribal, state and federal laws affect Rocky Boy.
“The key to success in working with tribes is that FEMA’s role is to step back and listen,” said Bello.
“Hear their story,” he says. “Figure out which direction they want the project to go, especially when traditional or cultural property is involved – let them lead the way. There has to be interplay. We can’t tell them how we’re doing it. It has to be a dialogue.”