Bethany Yellowtail here. Today we are celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Los Angeles, CA along with 130 other cities across the United States. Although the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day has yet to be accepted across the entire US, we are celebrating today in the spirit of hope, admiration, and remembrance for the Indigenous peoples who’ve fought and still continue to fight for our rights and our future.
For Native people, we often send gratitude to our ancestors for guiding us, and especially in days like today we remember them and thank them for the battles they fought for us.
Today I would like to introduce you to one of my ancestors who fought for the rights of ALL Native American People: Robert Summers Yellowtail.
In the Crow way I refer to him as my Basáaksaahkaa or “Grandpa Robbie” as our family and community so affectionately remembers him by. Grandpa Robbie was born on August 4, 1889 to Elizabeth "Lizzie" DuChein and his father “Hawk with the Yellow Tail Feathers” in Lodge Grass, Montana.
Yep. You read that right. “Hawk with the Yellow Tail Feathers”- the origin of my last name “Yellowtail” and also our brand name B.YELLOWTAIL.
image: Hawk with the Yellow tail feathers
Grandpa Robbie was from the first generation of Apsáalooké people born into the reservation system. At just four years old, he was taken from his family and sent to boarding school -- institutions at the time that forced cultural assimilation, prohibiting Indigenous languages and participation in traditional ways of being.
Although we can only imagine how difficult this time period was, during his boarding school education, Robbie became determined to learn the law, and defend the rights of the Crow people. He went on to earn his law degree through extension classes in Los Angeles and from the University of Chicago.
Meanwhile, back home in Montana, Senator Thomas Walsh was introducing a bill to Congress that would open up the Crow reservation to White homesteaders. Chief Plenty Coups, one of the last traditional Crow Chiefs, fought against Walsh’s efforts for years, but he knew he needed a Crow member with knowledge of the law to help. He called upon Grandpa Robbie to return home and assist in the battle.
In 1917, Robbie joined the Crow delegation of leaders in Washington D.C. to meet with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to defend our people against Senator Walsh’s proposal. Because Chief Plenty Coups did not speak English, Grandpa Robbie, a 28-year-old law student at the time, argued the case for the Crow people. It was there he helped win the fight to protect our homelands.
Shortly after, Grandpa Robbie returned to Washington D. C to assist in writing the “Crow Allotment Act of 1920.” This piece of legislation ensured that Crow lands could never be taken without tribal consent.
Not only was the Crow Allotment Act crucial for defending our land base, but it was instrumental in obtaining human rights for all Indian people, including US citizenship, the right to maintain our culture, autonomy, and you guessed it… our right to vote.
Grandpa Robbie remained a lifelong activist and was known as a champion for all Native people.
He had many important accomplishments during his life as a political leader. Some being that he ensured 40,000 acres of Crow #LANDBACK from White ranchers, built a Crow hospital, brought horses and cattle from Canada, and buffalo from Yellowstone National Park. Because of his determination and love for his people, many Apsaalooke families, including mine, have sustained ourselves for generations from the land and agriculture he helped ensure to us.
Today I stand in awe of him. How incredible to know, and feel the benefits and positive impacts of the decisions my ancestors made for me over 100 years ago.
It is not abstract, but a personal testament that our ancestors, my ancestors, Grandpa Robbie, knew how powerful, and critically important obtaining and utilizing our rights for the safety, protection, and advancement of our sacred people, homelands, and cultural life ways.
Because of him, I know voting and participating in this way IS sacred.
The Native vote is meant to be employed on behalf of our tribes Nation-to-nation relationships with the United States. Regardless if you participate or not, our sovereign tribal governments and people will face the realities of whomever becomes the next president and all other elected federal officials.This impacts everything from our Indian healthcare services, housing, education and protections for our homelands… all the things our ancestors fought for us through treaty rights and other tactical political negotiations.
My family lineage is directly tied to the Native right to vote…your right to vote.
Just like Grandpa Robbie, I care deeply for the people I come from and for whom I am accountable to. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of our people and all the ways we are mobilizing. Because of him I take my right to vote with great care, and consideration for the love and future of our people.
Building power for our people is necessary on all fronts. Not one being greater than the other and no role is more important than the rest. So on this day, as we celebrate and think of our ancestors who committed their lives to our futures and well-being... I challenge you to do your part. Whether it be standing on the frontlines, protesting in the streets, organizing, voting, making art, running for office on behalf of our people, it is all necessary, all interconnected. Lean into your role. One day you will be someone's ancestor.
Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Thank you Grandpa Robbie