The Museum at the Bighorns invites members of our community and summer guests to visit this year’s traveling exhibit, “Baá Hawassiio & Ènomóhtåhéseh: Healthcare on the Crow &Northern Cheyenne Reservations.”

Crow Indian women with children
Courtesy of: Western Heritage Center, Billings, Montana

From the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana, the exhibit explores ground breaking experiences and history of those under the government health care system on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations. Western Heritage Center Community Historian and exhibit curator, Lauren Hunley, explains, “This exhibit covers the challenges and tragedies that occurred during the early days of the reservation system, including the criminalization of traditional healing practices and the unethical practice of non-consensual sterilization. However, it also highlights how both Northern Cheyenne and Crow people demanded better conditions. Early advocates and health leaders blended traditional beliefs with Western medical practices and used their own self-determination to regain some control and leadership in tribal healthcare.” This exhibit explores policies and outcomes from across the United States, but it also specifically looks at the story within the context of Northern Cheyenne and Crow cultural practices and traditional knowledge.

When the Apsáalooke (or Crow) and Tsis Tsis’tas (or Northern Cheyenne) people moved onto the reservation, they faced physical and cultural disruption. The increased shock and stress of a changing environment, paired with the introduction of “white man’s” diseases, sparked generations of poor health, illness, and early death. Native peoples looked to the U.S. Government to uphold treaty promises for medical treatment. However, mismanagement, limited funding, and political and personal motives made a poor foundation for adequate care. The criminalization of traditional healing and fears of unethical sterilization kept native peoples from seeking needed care.

After interviewing 25 Northern Cheyenne women who were unethically sterilized, Chief Tribal Judge, Marie Sanchez fought on the national stage for the abolition of sterilization of native women. Her efforts resulted in massive policy changes with the Indian Health Service.
To combat high infant mortality rates, the U.S. Government launched a massive, Save the Babies!, campaign to educate native mothers in “scientific motherhood.” Materials pushed a blend of Euro-American gender roles and family norms, Western medicine, and shunned old customs and traditional knowledge.
Title image for a 1916 Department of Interior report.

  Baá Hawassiio & Ènomóhtåhéseh: Healthcare on the Crow & Northern Cheyenne Reservations (pronounced baw-ha-was-seeo and eno-mote-he-seh respectively)    explores the history of healthcare and healing on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne    reservations. Visitors will learn how native peoples demanded better conditions and    blended traditional beliefs with Western medical practices in the face of legal action    and apathetic government workers.

Exhibit highlights include a discussion of healthcare as assimilation, the impact of poor sanitation policies, and the inspirational stories of two women who became "healthcare heroes” of their tribal communities, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail, RN, of the Crow Nation, and Northern Cheyenne Tribal Judge, Marie Sanchez. The exhibit tells of important leaders like Mrs. Yellowtail and Judge Sanchez whose work spanned from the early 20th century into the 1970s.

Museum at the Bighorns Executive Director, Mikayla Larrow, says, “This exhibit tells an important part of our local and national history. What makes this exhibit especially powerful is the personal experiences that the Western Heritage Center was able to draw from.” The exhibit specifically makes use of the Western Heritage Center’s research and interviews done as part of the American Indian Tribal Histories Project (AITHP) in 2012. The core research staff for that project were historians from the Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes.

The exhibit will be on display at the museum through July 30, 2022.

Primary information generously provided by the Western Heritage Center of Billings, Montana.

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