Outdoor Recreation

What to do in Montana...

The buffalo hide tipi door lifts. You enter.  The fire, sacredly centered, illuminates the walls.  Shadows dance as the fire’s radiance flickers, highlighting the painted par fleche (for pemmican and other dried meat), the buffalo robes, and beadwork. The essence of sage and sweet grass engage your senses, as you are seated on a willow backrest and welcomed into the circle of the natural universe.  

This is the first evening of your adventure with the Moccasin Tracks Tipi Retreat.  The week-long getaway into the culture of the Northern Plains people began three years ago, but it has been a life long passion for founders Cathy Smith and Jerry Fahrenthold.

“With Moccasin Tracks Tipi retreats, we want to share respect for the earth and our natural world, the idea that all things animate and inanimate have a spirit and that it is the responsibility of each of us to walk upon the earth in a sacred manner,” says Smith.

The cultural immersion begins as you enter the authentic 1870s-style tipi nestled along the banks of Rock Creek in the Beartooth Mountains of southern Montana.  “The week will be a mixture of personal inner exploration within the context of traditional ritual and outer adventure, illuminated by the majesty of the Rocky Mountain wilderness,” says Smith.  Each evening, while you feast on traditional Native organic foods, you access a world through the stories of the People.  Each story is “a reason why”, the answer to a question. These stories will catapult you into the time and space of the Native American universe in traditional oral custom.  

 As a guest, you’ll learn the sacred way of setting up a tipi, and the importance of how it is placed in harmony with the earth and the four directions. “This will center you and your experience,” says Smith.  Midweek, you’ll travel across the inspiring Chief Joseph highway into Cody, Wyoming, and over the Beartooth Pass. In Cody you’ll visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.  There you’ll receive a personal guided tour of the culture of the Plains Indians.  “We will explain all the regalia and its meaning, how it reveals the values and life view of the Plains peoples,” details Smith, “And you’ll be inspired to make a medicine bag of your own.”

Later in the week, you will have a treasure hunt atop the spectacular Beartooth Pass. Guided by Smith and Fahrenthold, you’ll hike and gather objects representative of your retreat.  Your hosts will guide you to make and integrate these mementos into your personal medicine bag, made with authentic bison-tanned leather and beadwork.  This will be a talisman and reminder of the journey you have taken.

The week ends with a feast and ceremony of Thanksgiving.  Each medicine bag is completed and blessed.  “Our hope is that each individual will come away with a renewed personal relationship with the universe, a sense of awe for life, and a better understanding of the traditional Native way of walking upon the earth.”

Cathy Smith is an artist, historian and scholar of Plains Indian culture and the American West.  You’ll find her authentic Emmy award-winning Native costumes in films, such as Dances with Wolves, Geronimo, and Son of the Morning Star, for which she won the Emmy for Excellence in Costume Design. Most recently she, assisted by Jerry, is making Native costumes for Disney’s The Lone Ranger.

“Having worked in the motion picture industry, at galleries, and at my lectures, I have found people have a huge interest in learning about Native ways of life, culture, art and history. The retreats are my way of sharing this knowledge:  a week long cultural immersion hopefully bringing about some real understanding.”     

Growing up between two Lakota reservations in western South Dakota, Smith discovered a passion for the culture at an early age.  “For me the life and stories of  Hump and Crazy Horse, as told to me by my great aunt Nellie Two Bulls, were totally magical.  I understood at a young age that lifestyle was passing, and it was soon to be gone,” says Smith.  Her commitment to learning led her on a path to participating in the Native cultural life-ways, Hanblecyia’s (Vision Quests) and Sun Dances, and earned her the opportunity to apprentice with a medicine man.  “He told me it was my job to help teach this way of life, and I’ve made it my mission to teach it the right way,” says Smith.  Honoring the teachings of her mentor and instructing in the way she was taught, has made Smith a much sought-after lecturer and historian not limited to Hollywood producers, but also museum curators and international collectors.  Locales of her lectures and exhibits on Western Plains art and culture range from the Smithsonian to the Eiteljorg Museum, among many others. 

Smith has also begun to paint the American West.  Her historically accurate collection is titled “Wicaki Ksuya Pi” or “Remembering Them.” These original oil paintings, born out of her intimate connection with the Native culture, are showcased in her studio in Nambe, New Mexico, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and numerous galleries across the west.

Jerry Fahrenthold, native of Red Lodge is also an historian of Plains culture and an avid re-enactor of tipi life.  His beautifully outfitted tipi is the centerpiece of the retreat; his experience as a mountaineer guides the adventure.

Montana is not the only location to experience a retreat. They are hosted in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and on occasion, Santa Fe.  Smith will happily customize retreats, honoring guest requests for privacy or increasing the level of cultural consciousness.  Anyone interested, regardless of physical ability, and above age 11, is welcome to register. Every effort is made to accommodate each participant, from choosing tipi sleeping or a cozy cabin, to special needs or meal requests.  

“The whole meaning of our time together, is to inspire each participant with knowledge of living in harmony with the earth.  Native Americans know how to do this. Because so many people never have a chance to listen to the earth speak to them, we want to give people the tools to do this.  If people slow down their world long enough to listen, they too, can find the sacred in the everyday,” says Smith. 

Northeast of Yellowstone National Park in the beautiful Beartooth Mountains rests Red Lodge, host to Cathy Smith’s annual Moccasin Tracks Tipi retreat July 8-13, 2012.  “Nothing is more breathtaking than being surrounded by the beauty and nature of Red Lodge and the Beartooths,” says Smith who lived in Red Lodge for nine years and still has family there.   The banks of Rock Creek will house the renowned tipi at the Medicine Flower lodge, just north of town.   Celebrate the harmony inherent in Native American culture, while surrounded by the magnificence of the Rocky Mountain wilderness, in this historical and culturally unique mountain refuge.

To speak to Cathy Smith directly, call her at 505-470-6650. To read more about her and the Moccasin Tracks Tipi Retreat, see her Web sites at www.tipilifestyles.com or www.cathyasmith.com.