Picture the High Plains hundreds of years ago, with tall grass bending in the wind, the scent of sage in the air, and wide prairies roamed by thousands of buffalo – a land first populated by Native Americans. The “First Peoples” culture is still strong in Montana, with 7 Indian reservations and 12 tribal nations. Nine percent of Montana’s land base is “Indian Country,” and Great Falls is home to the state’s largest non-reservation Indian population. Your trip to Great Falls offers you a unique opportunity to learn more about native culture. Four reservations are located in North Central Montana, and two can be visited within a two-hour drive. American Indians have a culture of giving and hospitality. Honoring a person with a gift is a way to show friendship, family ties, or elder recognition and appreciation. Come to Indian country and honor Montana’s first culture.
Exit 270 off Interstate 15 | Ulm, Montana (follow signs north on paved road for 3.5 miles) 406-866-2217 | http://stateparks.mt.gov/parks/visit/firstPeoplesBuffaloJump First Peoples Buffalo Jump tells the story of one of the largest prehistoric bison kill-sites in the United States, and in the telling, captures a portrait of daily life for Montana’s first peoples. For more than 600 years, native peoples stampeded buffalo over the mile-long cliff, risking their lives to obtain life-sustaining buffalo meat and hides. No part of the animal was wasted. In the visitors center and on interpretive trails, First Peoples provides a glimpse of these natives and the plains they called home. Atop the cliff, accessed by a 3-mile hiking trail or a short drive, you take in a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountain Front, the Missouri River Valley, and the buttes and grasslands that make this Montana landscape so memorable. The iconic structure of the native people is the tipi, originally constructed of buffalo skin and often painted to reflect traditional tribal battles or personal experiences such as war, hunting, or a dream or vision quest. At this state park, you can encounter a typical tipi structure. Enter the full-sized tipi and listen to the murmur of the plains and the song of the meadowlark. See an ancient tipi ring of rocks, used to hold down the liners of the tipi, and learn of Indian customs. Step outside and try your hand at wielding an early Indian weapon, the atlatl, a spear-throwing tool that uses leverage to increase the speed of the spear.
MUSEUM OF THE PLAINS INDIANS 406-338-2230 | www.browningmontana.com/museum.html Located at the junction of US Highway 2 & Montana 89 | Browning, Montana The Museum of the Plains Indian exhibits the creative achievements of Native American artists and craftspeople of the United States. A permanent exhibit presents the rich diversity of historic arts of the tribal peoples of the Northern Plains, and two special exhibition galleries are devoted to changing presentations promoting the creative works of outstanding talented contemporary Native American artists and craftspeople.
A well-known native cultural activity is the tribal dance, or powwow. One of the largest powwows is the North American Indian days, held each July in Browning, an easy day trip from Great Falls. The colorful celebration features parades, rodeos, traditional dancing, drumming and singing, as well as native games and contests. Bring your camera, but be respectful and ask permission before taking pictures, as these are sacred sites and ceremonies of great spiritual importance to the participants.
406-338-7103 | http://www.blackfeetnation.com The Blackfeet, or Pikuni, call themselves “Niitsitapi,” meaning “the real people.” The reservation is nestled on the eastern border of Glacier National Park and in Browning, the Museum of the Plains Indian displays artifacts and arts, as well as a gift shop. A Vegas-style casino is close by. The newly expanded Blackfeet Community College merges traditional patterns with contemporary architecture.
406-395-4478 | http://www.rockyboy.org South of Havre, Rocky Boy is home to the Chippewa-Cree tribe. Located near the Bear Paw Mountains, the reservation boasts a new multimillion-dollar tribal community college and cultural center, Stone Child College. Rocky Boy also has the Northern Winz Casino, a Vegas-style gambling venue, and the Bear Paw Ski Resort.