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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bugling Signals Cultural Survival

Air Date: Week of

It's elk hunting season in the northern Rockies, but for Native Americans like the Crow people, the elk are more than prey. Reporter Mary Boyle spoke with Lawrence and Jennifer Flatlip, in Billings, Montana, about their daughter's special gift for calling elk, and what that means for their people.


CURWOOD: This time of year the shrill bugling of the bull elk echoes throughout the northern Rockies. It's mating time for these majestic animals. It's also a call to trophy hunters from around the world. Armed with high-powered rifles, they head into the wilderness in search of meat and magnificent antlers. But for some native peoples, the elk bugle is more than a call to hunt. Producer Mary Boyle has this sound portrait of Lawrence, Jennifer, and Lauren Flatlip, a Crow Indian family.

(Flowing water, a flute)

LAWRENCE: The elk was basically used by Native Americans all over the United States before Columbus and before the Spanish came. And for some of the families of the Absaloga were children of the raven or crow, whichever you prefer to call us. Some of the families basically hunted the elk. And it was a sacred animal, or a spirit animal.

JENNIFER: The elk is so powerful and so -- yet so versatile. We beckon its strength to come to our young men. For the Crow people it's part of our soul, it's part of our spirit, it's part of our lives. And so it becomes a real family tradition to hunt the elk, to kill it, but also to be mindful and to manage which elk is killed. And not to abuse the gift of killing the elk.


JENNIFER: Young men are like the mother's child. You are the mother's child. But they go on the hunt and they kill an elk and they come back and they have become the father son. And he takes on the role of going into emerging into adulthood, manhood. And he's leaving his boyish ways.

(Singing continues. Elk bugling by Lauren)

LAWRENCE: My great grandmother on my father's side and then on my mother's side, they bugled. They bugled for elk. They hunted elk and in my family as far as I can remember there was elk bugling all the way to the plains days. And when I was growing up, I thought everybody in the whole world knew how to bugle.

(Bugling by Lauren continues)

JENNIFER: The significance of the elk bugle itself is -- is the bull elk calling to the cow. It's a kind of a mating call. And Lauren, our daughter, has a necklace that's 5 generations old. And as she bugled she was given the elk tooth necklace. And through giving that necklace to her, she also has the right to bugle and she has the -- the elk is her medicine animal, her spirit animal. You think that spirit animals won't come any more, because we're living in 2 worlds. And we think that the elk and our heritage and our ways are -- are not connecting any more. But when Lauren bugled and she studied the elk, we were so -- so overwhelmed that our daughter, not as a warrior but as a young girl, could bugle, and have the same spirit connection to our heritage, to our ancestry, to our people the Crows.

(Bugling on flute)

LAUREN: When I first bugled, I felt scared, the first time. And then, and when I went up to the mountains, then I felt confident. And then I wore my elk tooth dress and had all elk teeth on the top of it. And my elk tooth necklace. And I felt like it was watching me, watching over me.

(Bugling by Lauren)

JENNIFER: And when she would bugle as a little girl, the men would weep. The women would cry. Because it made them say we are still alive as a Crow people. We are still going on in this world, and that the elk reminded us.

(Flowing water. Lauren bugles)

CURWOOD: Jennifer, Lauren, and Lawrence Flatlip live on the Crow Reservation in Pryor, Montana.



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