Back to Stories

A Crow Suggests How The Crazies Should Remain Wild And Sacred

In his op-ed, Apsáalooke tribal member and scholar Shane Doyle asks Forest Service to tighten up protections and forbid expansion of proposed mountain biking trails

High country in the Crazy Mountains, viewed as holy ground by Crow and home to healthy wildlife populations that have benefitted, in part, from geographic isolation and not a lot of intrusion by large numbers of people. Photo by Todd Wilkinson
High country in the Crazy Mountains, viewed as holy ground by Crow and home to healthy wildlife populations that have benefitted, in part, from geographic isolation and not a lot of intrusion by large numbers of people. Photo by Todd Wilkinson

by Shane Doyle

Last summer, the U.S. Forest Service released its final draft of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest plan revision. The Forest Service is now considering objections to that plan before it signs its record of decision and begins implementing the plan, which should occur sometime in spring of 2021. The Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation is pleased that the final draft of the plan included some protections for the southern half of the Crazy Mountains, a range we call Awaxaawippíia.

The protections – which include recommended Wilderness, a designated backcountry area, and the creation of an “Area of Tribal Importance” – are in recognition of the profound role these mountains play in our collective culture, history and spiritual lives. We also see their importance as a northern extension of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Red circle shows location of Crazies as island mountain range. Click on image to enlarge. Graphic courtesy Creative Commons
Red circle shows location of Crazies as island mountain range. Click on image to enlarge. Graphic courtesy Creative Commons
Aside from the ceremonial significance of the Crazy Mountains to the Apsáalooke community, they also occupy a central place on the landscape – situated as an iconic lighthouse in a region of staggering vitality and contrast. They lie at the heart of Montana’s rich and treasured mosaic of culture and diversity, a heritage to celebrate, which dates back over 13,000 years and spawned one of humanity’s great achievements: Plains Sign Language. 

As a sacred and shared landscape, we all have a stake in preserving their integrity. Along those lines of acknowledgement and respect, there is much more the Forest Service can do with the Custer Gallatin Forest plan to ensure that portions of the Crazies remain free and clear for all of us. 

First, it needs to more adequately describe the conditions within the Area of Tribal Importance that make the Crazy Mountains such a significant cultural landscape for the Apsáalooke community and by extension, all Montanans, as we are friends and neighbors whose lives are enriched by each other’s shared heritage and traditions. 

The proposed desired conditions in the plan fail to specifically describe the wild nature, solitude and other characteristics that underscore what makes the mountains sacred and worth protecting. The Forest Service also needs to provide tangible benchmarks towards which management goals should be directed. 
"The proposed desired conditions in the plan fail to specifically describe the wild nature, solitude and other characteristics that underscore what makes the mountains sacred and worth protecting. The Forest Service also needs to provide tangible benchmarks towards which management goals should be directed."   —Shane Doyle writing on behalf of Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation
Secondly, to ensure these desired conditions are met, it is vital that the Forest Service closely consult with the Apsáalooke Nation in any decisions it makes for the Area of Tribal Importance. While the proposed plan includes a goal for ongoing tribal consultation, it does not provide any clarity around when or how it will be conducted. Forest managers and tribal officials would both benefit from having that clarity. 

For example, that the uses of the area must be compatible with desired conditions and compatibility shall be determined through government to government consultation, which would ideally include imbedded strategies to maintain cultural communications integrity throughout political upheaval and community crisis, such as the current Covid-19 situation. Beyond this, there are good examples of strong standards around consultation requirements in the proposed plan for the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. 
"...we’re asking the Forest Service to prohibit mountain biking within the backcountry areas. Mountain bikes would diminish the natural environment and deny future generations an opportunity to experience the untrammeled terrain where their ancestors prayed for well-being. Rather than transforming the area into a recreational playground, it should be held in the light of reverence."
Thirdly, and in that vein, because of the overall lack of wilderness protection, we would like to see the backcountry area expanded to include the area between Dry Creek and North Amelong Creek. 

Finally, we’re asking the Forest Service to prohibit mountain biking within the backcountry areas. Mountain bikes would diminish the natural environment and deny future generations an opportunity to experience the untrammeled terrain where their ancestors prayed for well-being. 

Crow leader Plenty Coups had a vision of bison disappearing when, as a nine-year-old boy in 1857, he went into the Crazy Mountains
Crow leader Plenty Coups had a vision of bison disappearing when, as a nine-year-old boy in 1857, he went into the Crazy Mountains
There are currently no mountain bike trails in the backcountry area, although there are many trails elsewhere in the range. 
Rather than transforming the area into a recreational playground, it should be held in the light of reverence.  Over the past year-and-a-half, we’ve seen a surge of support for protecting the Crazy Mountains, something the Montana Wilderness Association and I helped spark when we co-produced a film called Awaxaawippíia: The Crow Nation’s Sacred Ties,  View the film below. It has received enthusiastic response at screenings held last winter in Bozeman, Livingston and Billings, drawing close to 1,000 people and it has been circulated to thousands upon thousands more. 

This last spring and summer, 420 comments were submitted to the Forest Service, advocating for more wild lands and more respect for the Apsáalooke relationship with them. Now it’s up to the Forest Service to fully honor all of our collective ties to the Crazy Mountains and ensure they are managed in a way that respects how important they are not just to the Apsáalooke Nation, but to Montanans across the state.

Shane Doyle
About Shane Doyle

Shane Doyle, Ed.D is a Crow tribal member who grew up in Crow Agency, and currently resides in Bozeman. He is involved in many educational interests, causes and organizations. He is a board member of Mountain Journal.  A singer of Northern Plains tribal style of music for 30 years, Shane  holds a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Montana State University-Bozeman, and completed a post-doctoral appointment in genetics with the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2016.  With 20 years of teaching experience, Dr. Doyle is a full-time educational and cultural consultant, designing American Indian curriculum for many entities, including Montana public schools, the National Park Service, and the Museum of the Rockies.  He is also currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Bozeman-based Extreme History Project, Hopa Mountain, and the Archaeological Conservancy, as well as serving on the Montana Arts Council culture and aesthetics committee, the advisor team with the Montana Wilderness School, and the Governors Parks in Focus Committee. He and his wife Megkian are blessed with five children.
Increase our impact by sharing this story.
GET OUR FREE NEWSLETTER
Defending Nature

Defend Truth &
Wild Places

SUPPORT US
SUPPORT US