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Sesquicentennial symposium

A man leans in closer to hear University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Frederick Hoxie speak Saturday in the Little Big Horn College gymnasium. Hoxie was one of several historians and scholars who participated in a two-day sesquicentennial symposium at the college examining the Crow treaties of 1868. 

A treaty signed 150 years ago that is expected to play a prominent role in the defense of a Crow Tribe member challenging a 2016 poaching conviction before the United States Supreme Court was the subject of two days worth of lectures and discussions that ended Saturday at Little Big Horn College.

Called “Treaties that Live: The Symposium for the Sesquicentennial of the Crow Treaties of 1868 at Fort Laramie Wyoming and Fort Hawley, Montana,” the event drew more than 100 people to the gymnasium at Little Big Horn College Saturday, where speakers included Jon Parrish Peede, the chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Other speakers at the event included Montana State University Billings Professor Emeritus C. Adrian Heidenreich, LBHC adjunct faculty instructor in Crow Studies and history Tim Bernardis, LBHC Crow Studies and Social Studies Department Head Dale Old Horn, author, educator and artist Philip Beaumont Jr., educator, author and consultant Alden Big Man, and Montana Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy.

Speakers discussed topics including the historical context of the treaties, oral histories of the treaties, the implications of the treaties on modern life and the specific terms of the treaties.

Information about the treaties compiled by Little Big Horn College outlines that the Fort Hawley Treaty was signed by leaders representing the River Crow and the Fort Laramie Treaty was signed by leaders representing the Mountain Crow. 

"The main purpose of these treaties were to negotiate and create 'agricultural reservations' with distinct boundaries, where the people would convert from nomadic buffalo hunters and gatherers to settled farmers," according to information from Little Big Horn College.

In the case of Clayvin Herrera, a former tribal game warden with a 2016 poaching conviction in Wyoming, the boundaries established in the treaty are expected to form part of the basis for his argument before the Supreme Court that the poaching conviction should be overturned, The Gazette recently reported.

Previous court rulings have stated that treaty rights were extinguished with the establishment of Wyoming as a state in 1890 and that even if that isn't the case, the Big Horn National Forest where Herrera killed the bull elk in question, is considered occupied land. Yet a 1999 ruling involving the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota contradicts previous court rulings, Herrera's attorneys believe. 

From the perspective of University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Frederick Hoxie, a historical study of the treaties of 1868 pushes back against what he believes are simplified, inaccurate and agenda-driven narratives of the Crow people and their history. 

Hoxie has studied Crow history for decades and said his research is based on both archival study and conversations with tribal elders. 

Using primary source historical accounts, Hoxie described how he believes the Crow approached their U.S. counterparts as a free, sovereign people who had made a decision to come to the bargaining table and seek a personal relationship beneficial to their people through treaty.

Narratives describing the Crow post-treaty as headed toward "oblivion," "assimilation" or "disintegration" are "non-Native fantasies about Native life that have been projected onto the past," Hoxie said. 

"The most prominent of these fantasies is the idea that indigenous North Americans occupy a cultural space completely separate from the other peoples of the world and that their cultural traditions are therefore fixed and unchanging, that they have no other option in the modern world than to stop being Indians and disappear," Hoxie said. "And if you think about that framework, that there's no place for Indians in the modern world, you can think about that a little bit about where that comes from and what that means. It is an instrument of conquest and it must be rejected." 

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Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.