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'A healing thing': MSU Billings group learns the art of buckskin dress making

Posted at 8:19 AM, Oct 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-30 10:19:15-04

BILLINGS — Buckskin dresses are a significant part of Crow culture and one group at MSU Billings had the chance to learn how to make them. It’s part of an initiative to keep art forms like traditional dress making alive.

“If we don’t teach it, and if no one else teaches it, then this will be an item that’s historical and standing in a museum, never to be worn by people like myself,” said Janice Little Light Hudetz at MSU-B on Sunday.

Crow native Hudetz has been trying to preserve her culture for years. It’s why she and others started the Crow Language Club at MSU-B over a decade ago.

“We wanted to get together to speak our language and have lunch,” Hudetz said.

Their agenda has been a little different these past few days as they’ve been learning how to make buckskin dresses since Friday.


“What I encourage here is for each of them to teach as many as they can how to make this dress,” said Hudetz.

It’s all thanks to a workshop grant sponsored by Evergreen University’s Northwest Heritage Program in Washington.

“They wanted us to focus on customary arts or traditional arts that need life breathed back in them to strengthen the traditions of those cultural artistic arts,” said Northwest Heritage program specialist, Linley B. Logan.

The grant provided the Crow Language Club with all the buckskin, beads, and supplies.

“It’s really important because this is kind of a dying art. You don’t see these types of dresses as typically as you have in the past so they’re looking to revive tradition within Crow culture,” Logan said.

For many of these women, it’s been a new experience. Lana Bear Claw Schenderline’s mother taught her how to make elk tooth dresses when she was just a girl.


“To me, this is a healing thing ‘cuz my mother passed away. So, I kind of stopped everything but this is good, it’s healing for me,” Schenderline said.

Lauren Big Hair had to learn everything from scratch.

“This is my first time ever. My mom used to try to teach me. She tried to teach me how to bead and I just didn’t have the patience,” Big Hair said.

But she wanted to learn so she could pass the knowledge down to her children.

“This is making me kind of like wanting to at least start something, start somewhere. Because I think I need to do that for my daughter. Maybe one day when I have a granddaughter, I can share that with her,” said Big Hair.

“I just don’t want to see it lost. I think it’s really sad to lose anything like that,” Hudetz said.