Hardin, Montana //
The adage that history is written by the victors can also serve as a more palatable way of saying it is written by those with power. It is often, at least for a time, dictated by the world’s oppressors.
While history provides irreplaceable context for our present, it’s also revered and admired with a degree of nostalgic lubricant that colors and molds into the shapes that best fit our desired narrative.
I became fascinated by historical reenactments when I was sent to cover several during my first newspaper job. I found a community of obsessively fervent enthusiasts enveloped in a culture that carries flavors of traveling theater troupes and circus acts; one history packaged within another. Last summer, I camped at the reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn in southeast Montana, the first I’d been to that is not produced by white men.
Held on tribal land at the very bend in the river where the battle took place, the privately-owned event is hosted by the Crow Agency. Its existence is not without quarrels. The fact that Crow scouts are known to have helped Custer and the Crow now benefit from hosting the reenactment is a point of contention among tribes. One Lakota participant told me there’s a well-known saying in the community: "The Lakota get the credit, the Cheyenne did the fighting, the Crow got the land." Still, many attendees, both Native American and non-Natives, spoke of the difference that Native ownership made, with no shortage of the word “authentic.” The experience stoked a curiosity in me to further explore reenactment culture through the lenses of those who have long been systematically kept from controlling the narrative of U.S. history.