CROW AGENCY — Students at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency have a tough final exam. Three separate classes competed to see who could build the sturdiest tipi the fastest. It’s a project designed to teach Crow students more about their roots.
It isn’t a typical final exam, but this isn’t a typical college campus.
“Tipi rings that you find, they were carbon dated back to about 5,000 years or more, so we’ve had the lodge more than 5,000, around in that area,” said Lewis “Levi” Yellowmule, an adjunct professor at Little Big Horn College on Wednesday.
Yellowmule teaches Crow Oral Literature, and his class is one that competed.
“I think that through college, teach the young people how to do it and tell him the origin of it, and then they can turn around and they can talk about it,” Yellowmule said.
It’s something his students, like Shawn Backbone, appreciate. Backbone is the powwow manager at the Crow Fair.
“I love it. I love who I am, where I come from. That’s why I come. It gives you a better sense of why I’m here,” said Backbone.
Especially since many fear that their Crow culture is vanishing with each generation.
“There’s only like 2,000 Crow speakers. And if you lose your language, you know your culture goes with it,” Backbone said.
It's classes like Yellowmule’s that teach younger generations about the traditions they might not have learned growing up. Each tipi is built with lodgepole pine and took about 25 minutes to put up and take down.
“Every pole has a significance. The covering has significance. It has a story to everything. It’s about life and nature,” said Yellowmule.
“As we get older, it’s up to us to keep it alive,” said Macariah Pine, a student at the college.
Pine is this year’s Miss Crow Fair. She’s made it her mission to immerse herself in her culture.
“Our tipi, it belongs to the woman. ‘Cuz back then the women, they did all of it. They put it up, they took it down, they moved it, they did all of it,” Pine said.
Pine’s class won the competition, but for Yellowmule, the contest served its purpose.
“It means a lot to me. It makes me feel enlightened that I can be able to share my knowledge with these younger people,” said Yellowmule.