As the Crow Nation steps into its new year following Crow Fair, one woman says goodbye to her throne. Olivia Reingold spent a day with Miss Crow Nation on one of the last days of her tenure.
A cannon blast means Awna Bad Bear is officially late. She’s Miss Crow Nation and is getting ready for her last day riding in the parade.
“Ugh, I don’t want it to end,” Bad Bear says.
She’s been dreaming of this day since she was four and first rode in the parade, all the way in the back.
Now, fifteen years later, she’s at the front, or is supposed to be.
“Hurry up, you’re going to be late,” Bad Bear's mom, Melodee Reed, says. “Where’s your fan and your purse?”
“We’re just going to go, it already started,” Bad Bear says.
Right before she’s about to take off on her new horse Moon, her belt snaps. But even then, Bad Bear doesn’t crack. She still has this huge smile as she and Moon race to the front of the parade, past kids eating popsicles and parents snapping photos of her on their smartphones.
“Morning,” she says, waving to a line of onlookers seated in folding chairs and eating watermelon slices.
By riding in the parade as Miss Crow Nation, Bad Bear is partaking in a long-held Crow tradition that predates the first Crow Fair in 1904.
Former Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote says the tradition of the parade and choosing a virtuous Crow woman to represent the Tribe goes back to a time when the Crow were nomadic and hunted buffalo.
He says that when the Tribe was ready to move camps, the leader would tell everyone to put on their finest clothes. He’d then pick a young woman to walk with him at the front. She’d be someone everyone looked up to—a virgin who, because of her purity, would help the Tribe find pure water and food at the next camp.
Many of those same pressures remain. Old Coyote says Miss Crow Nation has to be a single, sober virgin with a high school degree who speaks Apsaalooke, the Crow language.
He’s says she’s supposed to be someone everyone looks up to.
Family friend, Aldene Good Luck, confirms that that’s exactly who Bad Bear is.
“It’s awesome to see her up there, because she’s a good dancer and likes to participate in our traditions, Good Luck says. "Our culture is important to her, so it’s great to see her up there. It’s a great honor."
After about an hour of parading, Bad Bear rides back to the campground. It’s the same plot of land her family has used every Crow Fair since the early 1900s. Her mom comes to help Awna off her horse and take her sash and crown. They’re a few pounds each, with beads no bigger than a pinhead spelling “Miss Apsaalooke Nation” against a gold and aqua background. Her crown has the bright orange Crow crest hand-sewn into it.
"I only like to see her," her mom says, laughing.
Reed woke up two-hours early to finish Bad Bear’s dress this morning.
It’s long sleeves and cream wool, with 500 imitation elk teeth sewn onto it. She says the fabric cost $125 a yard and the teeth were $45 for a hundred—and that’s just one of six dresses Reed says she made for Bad Bear this year.
“That’s all I would do is bead and sleep," Reed says. "Go to work, come back. Eat, bead and sleep."
That’s how she says it’s been since Bad Bear was crowned Miss Crow Nation almost a year ago, after an intense competition of dancing and tests on Crow culture.
For the past year, Bad Bear has been representing the Tribe at more than a dozen powwows, some as far away as Colorado.
And between the flights, gas money and different outfits, Reed says it’s been hard financially.
When asked how much this past year has cost her, Reed pauses. She closes her eyes to think, as if she's doing math in her head.
“Like $20,000. I’m not kidding, it’s a lot,” she says.
Reed works as a receptionist at Little Big Horn College and says she lives paycheck to paycheck. That made giveaways hard. That’s when an individual or family gives gifts away to show thanks and acknowledgement in the Crow culture. Reed says Crow Fair royalty were expected to do giveaways throughout the year.
“Like in between pay days, they’d say we need all the girls to come over here, they need to give away. Then I panic. I’m like, 'What am I going to let her give away? What do I have left?'" Reed says.
She says she’d have to go into storage and dig up whatever she had—a blanket or maybe a shawl.
What made the financial stress and hours of beading worth it?
“Her. Her. It's what she wants," Reed says. "And I think a part of that was to push her to be the best that she could be so that she doesn’t wander off."
She says she knows her daughter faced pressures to drink and experiment with drugs throughout high school.
Bad Bear’s father died two months before she was born. She talked about that and more in the speech that helped her win the competition to become Miss Crow Nation. She pulls out her iPhone and reads some of it.
“I am a leader and overcame [adversity] growing up and living on the reservation and in a single-parent household,” Bad Bear says.
She says growing up, the girls who won Miss Crown Nation were always role models to her.
“I don’t know, it was just people I looked up to," Bad Bear says. "They finished high school, they overcame a lot of things."
Bad Bear graduated from Hardin High School this past spring. Now she’s bound for Little Big Horn College. But when asked if she's excited to kick off a life of dating, now that she's no longer barred from doing so by her Miss Crow Nation title, she responds with instant certainty: "No, I want to get my education before I look into something like that,” Bad Bear says.
She says she wants to become a cardiologist. She says if she really wants that, she can’t have any distractions. It's onto the next goal.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.