A Brief look at the Chippewa Cree Tribe
The Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is different from other reservations in Montana in several ways. It was the last reservation to be established in the state. It was established not by treaty, but by congressional act; and it is the smallest reservation in the state, home to the smallest tribe, the Chippewa Cree. The current total Chippewa Cree tribal enrollment as of July 18, 2017 is 6,868 with 4,041 members living on or near the reservation.
The Chippewa and Cree tribes had long been associated with each other as they traveled between Montana and Canada hunting the buffalo. Neither the Chippewa Chief Rocky Boy nor the Cree Chief Little Bear had signed treaties for land during the treaty period; therefore, early in the twentieth century they found themselves unwelcome in a land where most Indians were on reservations. They were without a home, without a place to call their own: a place where they could make a living, raise their children, and practice their religion according to their beliefs.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation is a very wealthy tribe in terms of language, culture, traditions, and in history. In order to access some of these aspects, one must follow certain protocols. One of the reasons for safe-guarding the language, culture, traditions, and history is to avoid common mistakes that have been made in the past. In particular, there have been authors that had previously written manuscripts about our Tribe and, in many cases, their writings were not totally accurate.
When reading the History of Rocky Boy, one must realize the historical era that our Chiefs lived. Both Chief Rocky Boy and Chief Little Bear were Plains Indians, a primarily hunting and gathering culture. The hunting of buffalo was central to the lifestyle of Cree people for thousands of years and to western Chippewa since the early 1800's. At one time buffalo were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on the Earth, so numerous that Indians could use the surplus meat for trade items among other tribes and non-Indians. It wasn't much longer when the state governments stopped hunting of other animals such as deer and elk by American Indians. This forced many to return to reservations to live off of government rations and family gardens.
This was not the case for the Chippewa and Cree, for they had no reservation to return to. They wandered the State of Montana for some 30 years before they were finally given a home to plant gardens and practice their ceremonial ways. This 30-year period was a sad time; full of sickness, starvation, despair, rejection, and sometimes humiliation. However, portions of the newspaper stories found in this segment of history have been omitted because, although it is part of actual history, there are some elements that could be regarded as appalling among both races and the project review committees advised us not to include those accounts in this book.
If it were not for people like Frank B. Linderman, William Bole, Theo Gibson, and Charles M. Russell, the Chippewa and Cree people of Montana may have also become extinct like the buffalo. When Mr. Linderman contacted officials in Washington D.C., threatening to write to the Eastern Press and inform them of the conditions the Chippewa Cree faced, Congress took action to approve a home for the Chippewa Cree on September 7, 1916.