HELENA, Mont. – While the world celebrated as an African American
assumed the highest office in the United States, Barack Obama was
accompanied by his adopted parents, brother and clan members of the
Apsaálooke, or the Crow Nation.
Twenty-four Crow members traveled from Montana to Washington D.C.,
hauling horse trailers and traditional regalia to participate in the
inaugural parade Jan. 20, after Obama became the first U.S. president to
belong to an Indian tribe.
Last May, then-presidential candidate Obama paid a campaign visit to
Crow Agency, arguably the first stop at an Indian reservation by any
presidential candidate since Robert F. Kennedy’s visit in 1968 to Pine
Before the rally Mary and Hartford Black Eagle formally adopted Obama
into the Crow Nation, conferring an honorary tribal membership. They
gave him a family name, Barack Black Eagle, and a Crow name, Awe Kooda
Bilaxpak Kuuxshish, which translates as “one who helps people throughout
“I like my new name,” said Obama then. “That is a good name,” he told
the cheering crowd of nearly 5,000 people.
“It’s something out of this world to have a son in the White House,”
said Mary Hartford just before Inauguration Day. “After the adoption,
when I asked Obama would he remember me after becoming the president, he
replied, ‘You will be right there with me, mom.’
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“Obama lost his parents much earlier; I am honored to be
his mother. In July, he introduced me to his wife and daughters. My
husband gave a Crow name to Michelle: ‘Arrowhead Woman.’”
Hartford Black Eagle reflected on the historic inauguration.
“It’s a moment of pride not just for our family but for all Native
Americans,” he said.
Obama’s adoptive brother Cedric Black Eagle commented on the turn of
events since May.
“When he visited us, we did not know he would go on to become the
president,” he said. “My family adopted him because he shared concerns
of Native Americans.”
Valerie Taliman of the Indian Law Resource Center, a nonprofit law and
indigenous rights advocacy organization, said the adoption was not
“It carried immense spiritual and social connotations and constituted
permanent familial and emotional bond between Obama and the Black Eagle
family,” said Taliman, a member of the Navajo nation.
American Indian tribes have huge expectations for the new president.
Obama often refers to “First Americans” and has acknowledged that the
federal government “has ignored their needs and has not been honest to
them.” He told the Crow gathering that his “government would ensure
[First Americans] have a voice in the White House.”
“We hope the president fulfills his electoral promises and changes
discriminatory laws against the natives,” said a beaming Cedric Black
Eagle as fellow tribal members made their way to Washington for the
“Native Americans have been suppressed by the federal government for
over a hundred years,” noted Taliman. “Jan. 20 was a historic moment for
America; and for the world.”