Indian reservation

Director Tsanavi Spoonhunter on Documenting Food Insecurity on the Crow Indian Reservation


Tsanavi Spoonhunter is an award-winning director. His documentary Crow country: our right to food sovereignty recently won the award for Best Documentary Short by the American Indian Film Festival. The film presents the tribal members of the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana and their struggles to maintain food security.

The Crow Indian Reservation

The Crow Indian Reservation is Montana’s largest reserve, spanning 2.2 million acres and home to nearly 8,000 members of the Crow tribe (Apsáalooke).

The reserve has suffered from devastating federal decisions and community woes. In 2017, the Crow agency, home of the Crow tribe in Montana, laid off 1,000 of its 1,300 employees due to government budget cuts. In 2019, the only grocery store in the community burned down completely. Director Tsanavi Spoonhunter says these are some of the reasons that members of this reserve are struggling to make ends meet.

“A lot of families depend on subsistence hunting, where they get most of their protein from wild game,” Spoonhunter said. “There is still no grocery store on the reserve, and on the Raven reserve, economic conditions are not very good for the tribe. So often unemployment is very high, so it is even more difficult for families and individuals to be able to provide for themselves and their families. “

Spoonhunter said the Crow tribe is just one of many tribes exploring the idea of ​​inheriting the right to identify their own food system. For the Crow tribe, many want the right to hunt for traditional and nutritious foods, but state restrictions on ancestral hunting grounds prevent them from supporting their families.

Credit Christian Collins

Peggy White Well Known Buffalo, Founder and Director of Center Pole, interviewed by Tsanavi Spoonhunter.

The document

Spoonhunter spent almost 10 months on this documentary. After extensive research and time spent on the reservation, his work resulted in a 20 minute story following the members of the Crow tribe.

“You have to have a certain respect when you step into a community that you don’t know. You should take these additional steps to familiarize yourself with this group of people. ”

One of the main characters in the film is Peggy White Well Known Buffalo. White is a registered member of the Crow Tribe and co-owner of The Center Pole, an Indigenous non-profit organization. The Central Pole is a hub for indigenous resources, offering a food bank, food delivery, and even a radio show for tribe members to tell their own stories.

Each morning, White sets off for an hour’s drive to Billings, Mont., To collect salvage food, food that’s about to hit an expiration date. She then takes this food and distributes it to the reserve.

White introduced Spoonhunter to Prinz Three Irons, who is also a registered member of the Crow Nation. Prinz Three Irons is an expert wilderness guide and hunter. He practices subsistence hunting.

“He described how many people rely on hunting and how important it is not just for their protein but for their culture,” said Spoonhunter. “They use elk for a lot of decoration on their traditional outfit.”

Spoonhunter said she wants viewers to walk away understanding that Indigenous people are not a token of the past.

“We’re not that fictionalized idea that people have booted into the minds of the film industry and Hollywood,” Spoonhunter said. “We’re real people with real issues right now, and we’re resilient people because a lot of these issues are the result of things that have happened. What the government did in the 1800s putting us on reserve, and how we continued to survive and prosper. … See the beauty of these communities but also understand the issues.

Two people stand in a wildlife viewing field in the snow.

Credit Christian Collins

Wilderness expert and guide Prinz Three Irons spotting the game and showing director Tsanavi Spoonhunter.

The director

Tsanavi Spoonhunter is a descendant of the Northern Paiute, Lakota and Northern Arapaho Nations. Most of his stories focus on the Indian country. She completed her undergraduate studies at the Reynolds School of Journalism and continued her master’s degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

His film has received two awards since its premiere, including the Mint Film Festival’s Documentary Award for Best Made in Montana Film. Spoonhunter directed and filmed this award-winning film while studying at UC Berkeley.

Spoonhunter is currently working on another short, following a Native American artist named Jean LaMarr for the Nevada Museum of Art. LaMarr will have a solo show next year.