Crow storyteller Grant Bulltail named National Heritage Fellow
Crow storyteller Grant Bulltail is among the National Endowment for the Arts 2019 National Heritage Fellows, recipients of the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Each fellowship includes an award of $25,000 and the recipients were honored at two public events on Sept. 18 and 20 in Washington, D.C.
Bulltail joins Heritage Fellows Dan Ansotegui, a Basque musician and tradition bearer from Boise, ID; Linda Goss, an African-American storyteller from Baltimore, MD; James F. Jackson, a leatherworker from Sheridan, WY; Balla Kouyaté, a balafon player and djeli from Medford, MA; Josephine Lobato, a Spanish colcha embroiderer from Westminster, CO; Rich Smoker, a decoy carver from Marion Station, MD; Las Tesoros de San Antonio, featuring Beatriz (La Paloma del Norte) Llamas and Blanquita (Blanca Rosa) Rodríguez, Tejano singers from San Antonio, TX; and Bob Fulcher, a folklorist and state park manager from Clinton, TN.
Master storyteller and teacher
Grant Bulltail comes from one of the last of the traditional storytelling families of the Apsáalooke or Crow people. He is a member of the Úuwuutasshe (Greasy Mouth) clan, and a child of his father’s clan, the Ashiíooshe (Sore Lip) clan.
His Crow name is Bishéessawaache (The One Who Sits Among the Buffalo), a name given him by his grandfather. He is a member of the Crow Culture Commission at Crow Agency, a Lodge Erector and Pipe Carrier in the tribe’s Sacred Tobacco Society, and a Vietnam War veteran in the Marines.
Bulltail grew up on a horse ranch in the Pryor Mountains of Montana but also spent much of his youth in the Heart Mountain area of Wyoming. In both states he worked as a ranch hand and competed professionally in local rodeos. His original home in Montana stood close to what is now the Chief Plenty Coups Museum, home of the renowned Crow leader who was close to Bulltail’s family and related directly to them.
Bulltail also claims as his lineage Chief Wolf Bow (Treaty of 1868), Chief Blinky (Treaty of 1868), Chief White Horse (Treaty of 1855), Chief Long Hair (Treaty of 1825), Chief Little Black Dog (Treaty of 1825), Chief Double Face (Treaty of 1825), and Chief Plays With His Face (Treaty of 1825). Bulltail’s second name implies this proud lineage – an individual earned the right to place the tail from a buffalo bull on their tipi to designate the chiefs of their lineage.
Bulltail learned most of his stories from his grandfather, Comes Up Red (1847-1947), and also from his grandmother’s cousin, Yellow Brow. Comes Up Red was a well-known warrior and respected storyteller. Bulltail learned his grandfather’s stories by listening far into the night and later going into a trance-like state to recite them.
Comes Up Red actively encouraged his young grandson to carry on the family’s oral traditions: storytelling, memorizing the histories of battles, the use of edible and medicinal plants, and other cultural narratives.
After serving with the Marines, Bulltail spent a year at Utah State University studying with folklorist Austin Fife, where he confirmed his commitment to carrying on the cultural heritage of his people. He has shared his stories with classes at Little Big Horn College, at state and national parks (including Yellowstone and Grand Teton) and at places of importance to the Crow people, including Heart Mountain, WY, and Rainy Buttes, SD. He has also taught classes at Utah State University, home of the Fife Folklore Archives, which is building a collection of Bulltail’s work.
Bulltail has represented the Crow on Ken Burns’ “Before There Were Parks: Yellowstone and Glacier Through Native Eyes” and for the BBC’s “Unnatural Histories: Yellowstone.” In 1992, he was a key consultant for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area’s Ethnographic Resource Overview.
From 1994 to 1998, he worked on Yellowstone National Park’s Ethnographic Resource Overview, a project that drew consultants from a half-dozen tribes historically connected to the landscape of what became the nation’s first national park. Bulltail is a founding member of the Native Memory Project and currently serves on its board of directors.
Sharon Kahin, PhD, who wrote this profile, nominated Bulltail for the Heritage Fellow in honor of his efforts to revitalize the histories of the Crow people – stories that have largely disappeared or been replaced by colonizers’ history. She has worked with Bulltail for about 20 years on various endeavors, including the Native Memory Project, which records Native perspectives from Montana and Wyoming.
Photo: National Heritage Fellow Grant Bulltail (Photo by Gary Wortman, EveryMan Productions)