At the tail-end of 2021, a century of history came full circle in Washington, DC.
The story goes back to 1921, at the inauguration of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow Nation was selected by hundreds of chiefs to represent all Native Americans at this ceremony, and was one of only two people set to speak: Himself, and President Warren G. Harding.
When his time came, Plenty Coups said a short prayer, then took off his war-bonnet. A hush fell over the massive crowd of thousands of people. He then laid down the headdress, as well as his coup stick, an incredibly important warrior stick that displays the chief’s many battle victories. To this day, the headdress and coup stick remain on display in Arlington.
This story was relayed to Teach & Travel by Timothy Smith and Katie Conaway of Global Travel Alliance, a tour operator working out of Minnesota and Montana. The company was founded in the early 00s by Jeff Peterson, who lived and worked closely with the Crow Reservation in Billings, Montana, even teaching at the school.
Fast forward to 2021 and Arlington was planning its Centennial Celebration at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Knowing the importance of the history of Chief Plenty Coups, they reached out to the Crow Reservation, inviting the Honor Guard, a group of highly respected Crow military veterans. Knowing how important education was to Plenty Coups, they then invited the reservation’s school to this ceremony as well.
As Chief Plenty Coups once said, “Education is your most powerful weapon. With education you are the white man’s equal. Without it, you are his victim.”
However, the small school didn’t have the funds to make all this possible. That’s where Global Travel Alliance’s nonprofit arm, Global Doing Good, stepped in, providing at least partial scholarships for everyone to take part.
After dozens of hours of preparation on the part of the tribe, hand-beading regalia and practicing dance, the trip was on.
“Right when we got off the plane, we started our tour,” said Principal Bianka Rock Above. “I’ve never heard my students so quiet. They were so in tune with what our tour guides had to say. It’s not everyday we get to travel together.”
The Centennial Celebration was kicked off by the Crow Honor Guard, performing in the amphitheater. When the drumbeats were heard by the off-duty tomb guards—some of the most elite and disciplined soldiers in our military—they all rushed out of the barracks to experience this momentous occasion. They knew the history of Chief Plenty Coups and what an honor it was to be a part of this celebration.
“Once they met, it was friends forever,” Smith said. The Honor Guard was invited to an after-hours party with the guards, on top of visiting the Naval Yard, where “they were greeted by every four-star general and colonel and admiral. They said they felt like the Beatles for four days.”
Plus, the Smithsonian Institute invited them to be the first group of Native Americans to perform in front of the new Native American Veterans Memorial, which was inaugurated just one year ago. That part of the trip was especially appreciated by Ellsworth Goes Ahead of the Honor Guard.
“What I loved was the educational portion,” he said. “There were student groups at the museum waiting to go in (as we performed), and it was the first time a performance took place at the museum. The students being able to experience that and ask questions, that’s what it’s all about, to combine cultures and learn.”
Thanks to Global Doing Good, the students of the Crow Reservation were able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime collision of history and education. There’s surely more to the story we can’t fit here, but what’s clear is that the trip had a profound impact on everyone involved.
“It shows the transformative power of travel,” Conaway said. “Any student can go and visit to the headdress and coup stick, and hopefully this will help to accentuate their experiences. But for these students, it was this one moment in time they could travel and have this. And it’s an honor for our company to be able to deliver these experiences. Whether it’s with this one trip or in the future, with another student visiting another destination, this is how travel can continue to change lives.”
This story originally appeared in Teach & Travel’s March 2022 issue.