BILLINGS — Crow Fair 2023 is underway in Crow Agency at the new arbor and surrounding encampment. It's a chance to immerse yourself in culture and history at the tipi capital of the world, with about 1,500 tipis set up.
This year, there’s one way anyone can participate in this 104-year-old tradition. You can travel to see the sites and soak in the sounds and you can even learn the language via an app.
You can learn the Crow language greeting, something you'll hear a lot at this year's Crow Fair.
"Shootaachii. Itchik daloom. It means good you are here,” says Dy Anna Three Irons, Crow Fair Royalty Coordinator and Apsaalooke language app co-designer.
Crow tribal members hope it's something they'll say a lot to first timers this weekend as Crow Fair 2023 has a special emphasis on inviting all Montanans to attend.
“We’re the last greatest show, and culturally we’re only 40 miles away,” says Shawn Backbone, Crow Fair 2023 powwow manager.
Now through Sunday, you can see the culture and hear the language. Beyond that, Crow Fair leaders are encouraging anyone to download the Apsaalooke language app for free, to help preserve a language that's almost lost, with only 2,000 fluent speakers out of 15,000 enrolled tribal members.
"There's a portion that we can say are passive, which means they understand, but they don’t speak it.” says Three Irons. It's scary because the younger ones don’t even understand at all.”
The ones who do are often crowned as Crow princesses, serving as ambassadors for language and culture preservation.
"It is important for us to hold onto what we have left of our language, our culture,” says Three Irons.
“Their main role is to promote that and model that for the younger.”
Those include Debra Don't Mix.
"My name is Debra Don’t Mix, that’s what most people know me as, and I'm representing the Big Horn District, valley of the giveaway,” says Don’t Mix.
She is one of 12 princesses who will be central figures this weekend, each trying to fight to preserve the language of their ancestors. App co-designer Dy Anna Three Irons knows the struggle all too well
“I was always searching for something for my kids when they were growing up,” says Three Irons.
“I won’t ever give up no matter how many speakers we have left.”
The Apsaalooke language app is packed with 600 words, phrases and language-learning games.