The Gathering of the Tribes to Save the Valley of the Chiefs †

Valley of the Chiefs - Weatherman Draw Montana

By Howard Boggess, Crow Historian

Editors Note: The Sierra Club has been working to protect the Valley of the Chiefs from oil drilling.

As we walk up the canyon to the Valley of the Chiefs, I think about the hundreds of people who came to use this sacred valley for more than a thousand years and walked the path that I am walking. The Valley is so quiet that you can hear the birds chirp from a long distance and eagles soar from high above. You can hear the whisper on the winds of ancient ones saying their prayers and singing songs as they prepared to paint their stories on the Ancient rocks that tower so tall. The Indian religion has never been written and yet has been practiced for hundreds of years and has been passed down through the generations by oral stories. In the Indian belief, one has to go to the sky to be with their maker, they pray to their father the sky, their mother the earth, their grandfather the sun and to their grandmother the moon. The Indian people are family oriented and their religion is based on family and the ones who brought them to this earth and cared for them. One day they will become the people that they pray to, a Father, Mother, Grandparent, Aunt, Uncle, Brother or Sister.

We have seen something that has not happened for hundreds of years, a gathering of non-Indians, Indians and spiritual and tribal leaders from many different tribes of Indians. We started off as quiet strangers who had never laid eyes on one another before. The Comanche, the Crow, Blackfeet, and the non-Indian all traveled together to the Valley of the Chiefs the traditional name for Weatherman Draw, (AKA) the Valley of the Shields. As I walk I wonder how long it has been since a Blackfeet, a Crow and a Comanche had walked this valley together and prayed together and had food.

For one to enter the valley they must cleanse their mind and body and have no bad thoughts or hate, fear or jealousy in their hearts. You enter the valley after you cleanse yourself in the traditional way with prayer or smoke from the sweet grass, sage, and tobacco. After cleansing or prayer, you can begin a safe journey into the Valley of Peace for there are no enemies here.

As we walked up the narrow canyon to the valley we discussed how any work that would be done by an oil company would destroy the canyon, as it is only wide enough for four people to walk abreast. The earth is so fragile that we left marks that would take a long time to heal from our footsteps. The first site we visited was of the great black bear, ancient looking with large claws and very powerful. There are shields and other spiritual artwork at this site that has been used as campsite in recent years as there are the remains of campfire. A few feet away is an old painting of a single hand of a bear and recent work done in charcoal. At a nearby site two separate groups of round dots form a panel that displays a count that appears to have been made by two different groups, as the paint is of two different shades of red and yellow oaker. There are also sites of the tobacco society as they are wearing the flat hats on their heads with a cross and others with marks on the hats. These types of hats are in early 1900 hundred period photos and worn by Crow Indian women in tobacco society photos.

In the history of the Indian there were no serious wars among the Indians tribes until the traders and trappers came in the mid-1700s. When Indians wars were fought they counted coo on one another, as it was far braver to touch your enemy and take his weapon and leave him alive then it was to take his life. Indian people practiced their religion in the Valley of the Chiefs. This valley is so sacred that your worst enemy was a friend when you were in the valley; you ate together and prayed together. There was only peace in this sacred valley.

3 Shields Pictograph Photo
Three rare polychromatic figures
with shields in the Valley of the Chiefs

They painted countless pieces of rock art to show what their life was about in this small valley. There has been more than ninety pieces of rock art found today and cataloged by the Bureau of Land Management archeologists. The many shields painted on the walls of the valley of the shield-bearing warrior tell us the age of the earliest work, as the shield-bearing warrior was a time before the horse. Small shields were adopted after the coming of the horse, as the large shield was far too cumbersome for the swiftness of a horse. Through modern technology, one of the sites was carbon dated. There are three shields side by side in a hidden part of the Valley of the Chiefs. One of the shields had dirt in the front of it, which covered part of the shield. An excavation of the shield was done to see if the painting had survived under the earth. As this work was being done, a fire pit was discovered and three ablators stones were found in the fire pit, all with the paint of the shields on them. After the fire pit was carbon dated it was determined that the shields were 900 to 1000 years old.

As we walk to the art sites we discuss what we felt there, as it is an overpowering feeling in this holy place. We compare this valley with other places that are non-Indian sacred sites, Mount Rushmore, Gettysburg Cemetery, St Patrick Cathedral, The walls of Jerusalem. These are sites that mean so much to the Indian and are scattered over a large area. All of these same sites are in the valley of the Chiefs, our burial sites, our vision quest sites, our prayer sites, and the campsites that the families used so long ago. Much of the vegetation like the yellow sage and ghost plant there was used in the ceremonies and as medicines for the sick.

Spiritual art was done by the first Americans telling the stories of their lives, religion, and power of their medicine bundle. Each drawing was done by an individual and tells about what this person used for his spirit being. Indians use different animals, birds and other icons of their choice for their powers and protection.

3 Shields Pictograph Photo
Two pictographs of shields
at Weatherman Draw

After you enter the Valley you can go to your prayer site or vision quest site. For a vision quest site you go high enough on the ridges for you to see the four cardinal directions, North, South, East and west. You will stay at a vision quest the length of time it takes for the quest to work for you. Normally, it is three days and nights to make your vision quest work for you to guide you in your future. After you return from your vision quest you go before the elders and tell them everything you have seen or heard, what came around and the dreams you had while resting. The elders would then tell you how your vision quest would guide you in your future life, what you would use for the powers in your medicine bundle, or the drawing you would use on your medicine shield. This is the drawing that you would paint on the sandstone walls in the valley to leave power in the valley, where you received the powers that will protect and guide you through life. When people stand before the paintings they will receive a blessing from the one that painted this story for people to see for many generations in the future.

At about the age of eleven years of age an American Indian does his first Vision Quest. The reason it is done at this age is that one has to do his vision quest before the time of puberty, as after the time of puberty a boy becomes known as a man. Girls also do vision quests before they become women. Vision quests last for three days and nights. During this time they are not allowed to eat, drink or to have other comforts such as clothing or blankets or have any connection with other people during that time. One pays attention to what they see or hear when doing a vision quest or what they may dream about while they sleep. After they leave the vision quest site they set with their elders and tell them of everything that came around them or they heard, seen or dreamed about. The elders then would tell of the things that would happen in their lives, like if they would become great warriors and leaders of their people or other significant things in their lives.

For a prayer site you go where you can see the rising sun in the morning and the setting of the sun in the evening. As you need to set there for a life of one day, you start your prayer with the beginning of daylight and your prayer will last through out the day and end with the sunset. Your prayers are said four times in each of the four directions. Your prayer songs are sung in the same way. You have to complete a series of prayers and songs before a prayer is ended. For you to set by oneís self for the day is a way to mend a way of life or to make a decision. The old way is for you to be by yourself and think all your problems out for yourself and make all decisions yourself. For guidance you go to your uncles or aunts who give you your guidance, but you have to make the final decision yourself.

The valley is very well protected from the harsh weather we have here in the winter. This is a small valley of about 4000 acres. If this were the last place on earth that may or may not have a pool of oil under it the American Indian would probably consent for the good of mankind to drill for this oil. It is not the last pool of oil on earth and we do not consent to having a steel spear being driven through the heart of our mother the earth to look for oil that may or may not be there. To build the road, the bulldozers would destroy the earth and the vegetation and this would be lost forever, as this earth is so fragile any little disturbance takes years for any recovery. The old road into this valley is unusable now, as it has eroded away.

The area is closed to motorized vehicles and firearms, but it is not enforced by the BLM. The valley has a natural protection now that will be destroyed if a new road is allowed to be gouged and ripped into this sacred valley.

At our hearing at the BLM office in Billings, MT on May 7th, testimony was heard by deaf ears, even though good honest testimony to the importance of the valley was given by the people that traveled many miles to be there. Testimony was made by Indian and non-Indian that was very moving to all whom were there. People were not aware of the importance of this valley to the American Indian. We believe the BLM has made a big mistake in allowing an oil lease for a well to be drilled for in this small pristine valley.

We have a President and Vice President of our country whose campaigns for office were financed by oil companies to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now they have to pay off their debt and will push to allow for cultural religious sites and pristine areas to be destroyed for the sake of an energy crisis that was not there until they entered office. The Bush administrationís energy plan would destroy any cultural or religious site, just for a gallon of oil. The oil well to be drilled is only exploratory; they donít even know for sure if there is oil down there. If there is, it is only a small pool of ten million barrels of oil, which would take twenty to thirty years to pump and would only supply enough oil for the United States for less than one half of a day.

As Iíve walked through the valley, I have seen the paintings on the sand rock cliffs of the shield bearing warrior with the wolves, two-headed water animal, the bear, two-meter man, horses and men, tobacco society drawings, and antelope in colors of yellow, gold, red, green, and black. I have hiked the valley ten times this summer with religious leaders from the Crow, Blackfeet, Comanche, Kiowa, Sioux, Arapahoe, Shoshone, and Cheyenne. Each time is a new experience. I believe this is because before you enter the valley you said your prayers and dismissed all bad thoughts for everyone and think of what may have been going through the minds of the ones who created the spiritual art.† When I am in the Valley of the Chiefs, I feel the peace and calmness of this sacred place. On May 18th 2001, I was informed that the BLM had made their decision to go ahead and sign the plan to proceed drilling for oil in the Valley of the Chiefs without doing an Environment Impact Statement (EIS). There are ninety-four sacred cultural sites that have been mapped and studied by BLM and other archeology groups at this date. There is study history back to the 1950ís--why did the BLM let this lease? It is said that there is only about 10 million barrels of oil under this valley, if there is any at all.

Why are we searching for potholes of oil? If energy is this low, why are we not looking for alternative sources of energy that will not destroy the earth and environment? Do we have to milk the earth dry before we look in other places for energy?

Thank you

Howard Boggess is an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe and an oral historian. He has worked in coalition with Sierra Club to prevent oil drilling in Weatherman Draw. †


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