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Crow Agency Man Keeps History And Culture Alive, Wins National Award

Storytelling helps Grant Bulltail Win National Award
Gary Wortman
EveryMan Productions LLC
Storytelling helps Grant Bulltail Win National Award

An Interview with Grant Bulltail

A Crow storyteller just won a national award for his craft. Grant Bulltail is one of nine recipients of the National Heritage Fellowship for folk and traditional arts. It's an annual prize awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

When Bulltail got a voicemail from Democratic Senator Jon Tester, he thought it was a prank. That’s how much disbelief he was in when he heard he’d won an award for storytelling.

"It was quite a surprise. I felt so good, you know," Bulltail says.

He says the government once prevented his grantfather from telling stories, but now:

"Well it's a 500 year precedent that is broken, when they recognize my storytelling and what I have to offer, that our way of life was good for us," Bulltail says.

Bulltail says he knows over 500 stories. Many are about Crow history and culture, but some are about his family.

Like this one—it's the life story of his grandfather.

"And here this black bird came again," he says. "He understood that something was going to happen. And he said, I'm going to give you the gift of gambling. Whatever you do, you cannot lose."

He grew up on a ranch in the Pryor Mountains. That's where he learned most of his stories, just by listening to his grandfather and other elders.

"And I loved listening to them," Bulltail says. "I loved the old ways and how they lived. And I could tell that they understood quite a bit. That they had gone through a lot."

He wanted to be like them, and he says that made him different than other kids. He says cousins would never listen to his grandfather. They felt like his stories were too far removed from contemporary life. Even today he has a hard time getting young people to listen.

"No body's really interested," Bulltail says. "Our people, they're not really interested. A lot of them don't believe in the old ways. And then another thing is that when we do ceremonies, it's only the old people that do ceremonies."

Even his wife, Linda, admits that she used to tune out during his storytelling.

When asked if Bulltail's storytelling is one of the reasons she fell for him, she doubles over laughing. 

"Oh my god. No," she says.

For the record, she said his stories had nothing to do with it. She says he was just too darn handsome.

But now, this award has made her think.

"I didn't care before," she says. "But now maybe I should learn about these stories."

And that's the crux of what this award means to Bulltail--it's a symbol that even though his stories have been historically marginalized, they matter. It's a breakthrough gesture to his people, but also personally. That's because the awards comes with a prize of $25,000.

"I think it's going to change my life. There are some things that I want to do, and I'm going to be able to do it," Bulltail says.

That starts with renovating his home in Crow Agency. He and his wife have been living with his grandkids in Hardin while they wait to make repairs.

In September though, they'll get away for a trip to Washington D.C. That's where Bulltail will be honored for his craft at an event that is free and open to the public.

Copyright 2019 Yellowstone Public Radio

Olivia Reingold is the Tribal Issues Correspondent for Yellowstone Public Radio. She was previously a producer for Georgia Public Broadcasting and participated in the NPR program, “Next Generation Radio.” She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, where she reported on opioids and the 12-step recovery program, Narcotics Anonymous. She’s from Washington D.C. and is particularly interested in covering addiction. She likes to sew, just don’t ask her to follow a pattern.
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