The federal government, through the Forest Service, has an opportunity to atone for past sins against the Apsáalooke (Crow) people with its upcoming revision to Custer Gallatin National Forest plan.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 recognized Crow land as basically everything between Lander, Wyoming, Big Timber, Montana, and Miles City, Montana, including Awaxaawippíia, or “Ominous Mountains,” better known by settler society as the Crazy Mountains.

Apsáalooke knew the rugged range as a place of immense spiritual power. After fasting and praying in the Crazies, Plenty Coups had a vision to guide his people: preserve Apsáalooke culture by working alongside white settlers.

The event speaks to a shared human experience across time and culture having felt spiritual gifts myself after ascending mountaintops.

Seventeen years later, under a new treaty, Crow Reservation boundaries changed to make room for another religious pursuit called Manifest Destiny. The federal government’s priorities during the late nineteenth century were clear. It would steal the ancestral homelands of native peoples and give those same lands away to private corporations like the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Remaining lands expropriated into the national estate were later held in the public trust through various federal agencies such as the Forest Service. Public lands are supposed to be for everyone, native and non-native alike, including other-than-human kin such as mountain goats and wolverines.

Our public lands, vestiges of stolen indigenous lands, can be places to make amends, to do right, to heal together. Will the Forest Service listen to civil society—that is, settler society—and heed the wishes of our indigenous brothers and sisters?

They ask for a wilderness designation of the Crazy Mountains, protecting a spiritual and cultural heritage for native and non-native generations to come.

Will Wright

Belgrade