Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale
Buffalo Crossing: past, present and future (Native American event)
The purpose of this project is to disprove stereotypes of Native Americans and combat anti-Native racism in Billings and the region by promoting greater understanding of the variety and richness of the culture of Indigenous peoples. This showcase of traditional and contemporary Native American performing artists will have particular impact on our local student and vulnerable audiences—providing Native American youths’ white peers positive insight cultures and traditions they might have previously maligned or discredited.
From its inception, this project was designed in collaboration with Native American consultants and artists. who provide the inspiration and authentic details for each of the various programs within the “Buffalo Crossing.” This unique project concept aligns with the Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale (BSOC) mission since 1951 to enrich lives through music.
Our premier event—an evening concert provided by the BSOC; produced and emceed by Ruben Little Head Sr.—will open with a traditional Northern Cheyenne Buffalo Dance, complete with buffalo heads. This attention to detail will continue as we portray the true essence of traditions passed down from generation to generation, opening the audience’s eyes and minds to the beauty of Native American culture. National champion dancers—see Work Samples for specifics—will demonstrate and illuminate their own style, flare, and rendition of the traditional dance styles of a powwow circle. Performed by both men and women in eye-catching authentic dress, dances will include the Traditional, Grass, Hoop, Fancy, Jingle, Chicken, Fancy-Shawl, and Buffalo dance. Additional concert programming will re-introduce our patrons to Jim Cockey’s Symphony No. 2 (“Parmly’s Dream”), first commissioned and premiered by the BSOC in 2002. The work features traditional Northern Cheyenne flute solos.
Additional small and large performance elements, in partnership with other key organizations, are scheduled to connect the past, present and future of the Buffalo Crossing experience:
• Northern Cheyenne tribal members will demonstrate the Round Dance, with audience participation, at the annual Billings Harvest Festival, an event organized by the Downtown Billings Alliance.
• Native American artists Supaman and Bently Spang will perform separate concerts as part of the BSOC’s Sukin Series, a small-venue concert series in downtown Billings.
• An exhibit (The Northern Cheyenne: “Coming Home”) will be featured at project performances of historical photos and artifacts provided by the Western Heritage Center, a key partner of BSOC for this project.
• Outreach and community engagement events at Yellowstone Boys & Girls Ranch, Lockwood Schools, Lame Deer Public School and Chief Dull Knife Tribal College, as well as a concert for (1300) Billings School District #2 5th graders.
This event will take place on October 2021. Evaluation includes measuring audience/community response, ticket sales, corporate and individual gifts, level of comprehension of outreach participants, and knowledge gained by educators, community members, and students. Audience numbers and demographics, student/educator participants, ticket sales, increases in contributions, zip codes, and media coverage are all documented. The number of people served will be documented. One-on-one discussions with each organizational partner will identify the success and areas for improvement of all of the engagement activities. This project is intended to help our community and organization sustain and further develop relationships with the Native American people, specifically Northern Cheyenne and Crow. It is our hope to have evidence of our success for many years.
This project brings the arts into facilities with the largest percentage of underserved and minority populations in the area. All four of the schools we will be visiting are Title I Schools, with two of the schools 100% Native. Montana is home to 11 tribes, with the Northern Cheyenne and Crow being closest to Billings, Montana. Each tribe has about 11,000 enrolled members with 50-70% living on their respective reservations. It is estimated that Native groups comprise 7% of Montana’s population and is the largest non-Caucasian demographic group in the state. Just 67 percent of Native students graduate from high school—a figure well below the national average.
Research shows that there are important long-term benefits to being raised with a distinct cultural identity as a Native person. For youth, this secure sense of cultural identity is linked to higher self-esteem, better education attainment, and lower rates of mental health problems and substance abuse.
Our project will provide context and immediacy for a dialogue on diversity and stereotyping. Our audiences will also engage with excellent live music and increase their experience of and appreciation for music and dances of their culture. We want these students to know that we understand that tribes and Native communities must not only have a voice, they must help to lead the way.
It is our hope that bringing well-known Native artists to these locations will benefit Native youngsters’ perceptions of themselves. We know that diversity can create curiosity by being exposed to different people and cultures. Learning more about a particular group can give insight into how and why things work as they do and a way to change them for the better.
We plan on inviting the reservation community to the schools, involving the elders in our presentation. We hope to reach over 3500 adults and children during these engagements.