Elisabeth Ann “Jackie” Big Crow
Elisabeth Ann “Jackie” Big Crow was born on August 24, 1955 in Rapid City and lived there until she was in the sixth grade. “I got the name Jackie from my dad who was Jack O’Rourke,” Jackie said, “But I was raised by my grandmother, Sallie Hat. She raised three of us; my sister Serena and my cousin Melody. I’m in the middle.”
And she has some wonderful memories of growing up with her grandmother. “Being raised in Rapid City, grandma would take us to all these churches; I mean we went to church everyday. After school we had to go to Catholicism and benedictions and on Easter we always had to go to church. And when we got home we had to do our chores. Grandma used to make dolls out of leather. She would tan hides and we had a choice of helping her tan the hides or make the sinew, or we could embroidery or crochet, or sort beads, because grandma made fully beaded dresses for women. We always had a choice. But once we got those chores done we could go play,” Jackie remembered.
“My first job away from home was on a sheep ranch in Wyoming when I was 12 years old. It was a summer job to earn money to buy school clothes. I was responsible to bring in the horses and brush, feed and saddle them. I took it seriously, as I could cause an accident if I didn’t do it right.
“I always had some kind of responsibility. And grandma used to say, ‘Responsibility means when something happens, you respond wi th your abilities.’ And I always felt like I had a lot of abilities. Even at Red Cloud when the nuns needed someone to clean the kitchen or sort and iron clothes they would say ‘Pick Jackie, because she really knows how to clean.’ So I always got picked and the kids used to say, ‘Nun’s pet,’ Jackie laughed
“Also, living in the city you kind of blend in; you don’t try to stand out or bring attention to yourself or anything,” she said. “The only thing, I was always a lefthander and when I went to first grade my teacher told me, ‘Oh, I’m going to break you from that.’ So she would stick my left hand behind my back and make me write with my right hand. But of course, as soon as she turned her back I would take my left hand out and write with it,” she added with another little laugh.
Then she related to me a story she read when she was small and at the same time gave me an insight to her grandma’s great wisdom. “It was The King’s Poppy Fields and it was about this king who had miles and miles of poppy fields. And some of the poppies would be taller than others and the king didn’t like that, because he wanted them all to be the same. So he would cut down all the ones that stuck up higher. And I asked my grandma why he did that? And she said, ‘He doesn’t know it, but he’s doing in the best of the best. Those ones are better then the other ones, but yet he is so hung up on everything being the same that he cuts down the ones that he doesn’t like and doesn’t realize he is hurting himself in the process.’ And that always stuck with me and I always thought, ‘well, I am going to be one of those that are different.’
“The other thing that always stuck with me was I have an aunt that had a special needs child. And she used to come to the house and cry and cry, ‘Why me? Why me?’ and grandma would never say nothing to her. And here one time grandma got mad. And she said to my aunt. ‘Why are you crying? If God gave me a special needs child I would be whooping and hollering. I would be praising God. Because somewhere He seen it inside your heart to love this child. And that is why He gave her to you. Why don’t you see that? And after that my aunt shut up. She was quiet,” Jackie stated. “And that is how I look at special needs children now. There is a reason why He gives them to certain families; because they have it in their hearts to love them.”
As a little girl Jackie learned to speak both Lakota and English fluently and when she was in the sixth grade, her little family moved to Manderson. “And to me that was a cultural shock,” she said. “Even though we lived in Rapid City we spoke Lakota all our lives. And when we moved here to the reservation I had a culture shock in that the children here didn’t speak Lakota. I would talk Lakota to students and they would look at me like they didn’t understand me, or even if they did understand me they wouldn’t talk Lakota to me. And that was in Manderson.”
When she was in the seventh grade Jackie went to school in Batesland and then to Red Cloud. “And the same thing happened there. I spoke Lakota to the students and they answered me in English,” Jackie declared.
However; school was easy for Jackie and except for the other students not speaking Lakota, she has some very pleasant memories of her school years, including the years at Red Cloud. “I played volleyball and was in speech. We went to state in speech,” she proudly stated. “And I always got along with all the teachers and had a lot of favorites among the nuns and stuff. I think it is your attitude that you have about people. Grandma used to say, ‘Everybody has it inside them to love you. You just have to find it.’ So that is what my attitude is. I always think the best of people.
“And I didn’t have any problems at Red Cloud; everything seemed real easy for me, I didn’t have any problems with the nuns or anything,” Jackie said.
“Until my senior year’” she added. “Then Wounded Knee ’73 happened and my grandmother went into Wounded Knee so I went with her. That was in February of ’73 and I was supposed to graduate that year, but after I came out of Wounded Knee in April I went to see Sister Sheila who was the high school principle and she said, ‘No, Jackie, we can’t let you graduate, because you committed a crime against the United States.’ So I said, ‘Thank you sister, that’s fine,’ and I left. And I sat in the bleachers and watched my class graduate. Which was cool,” she said. “Then in August I got my GED,” she added proudly.
Jackie continued her education by going to the Oglala Lakota College (OLC) where, in 1980 she earned an AA degree in General Studies and in 1989 a bachelor degree in education with a minor in Lakota Studies. “And I have a Special Ed Endorsement,” she said proudly.
About a year before she got her GED, Jackie was at a rodeo where she met the love of her life, Gerald Big Crow. “And right off the bat he told me, ‘I’m going to marry you.’ I didn’t think much about what he said at first. I was young, only 17 and I just laughed him off. I didn’t even see him for awhile after that. But then I started playing softball and he would show up and ump the softball games,” she laughed, “and that is kind of where we grew our relationship.
“But I think the cincher was when we were in Wounded Knee. My grandma got sick while we were there and I needed someone to bring her out. So when the barricades came down Gerald said to me, ‘I’ll go in there and get her.’ Of course he was on Dick Wilson’s side and I was on the AIM side, and yet after the blockades came down he went in there, picked up my grandma and drove her out of there. And they were all hollering ‘GOON, GOON,’ but he took us out of there. I took grandma to the hospital and she got some medicine and in a couple of days we were back in Wounded Knee,” Jackie laughed.
However; Jackie hastened to explain that she and her grandma were not AIM members, but were members of a Civil Rights group instead. “We were there with the Civil Rights group of Pedro Bissonette. We were not AIM,” she repeated.
“At Wounded Knee we cooked a lot, we cleaned and toward the end I ended up carrying a gun. Because a lot of the men had left, some of the women had to carry guns,” Jackie explained.
When AIM and the FBI star ted negotiating, people were given the option to walkout. “And my grandma said, ‘I’m going to stay in here and get arrested with the rest of them, but you are young. I don’t want you to have a record. You are just now starting your life. I want you to walkout. So I walked out and ended up in Pine Ridge until they brought the rest out in buses.” Those arrested were taken to Rapid City and Jackie followed, but fortunately her grandma didn’t have to spend any time in jail.
Jackie feels good about her experience in Wounded Knee and said, “I wouldn’t trade it for any other experience in my life. I think it taught me about our rights. At Wounded Knee they were all getting cards saying, ‘We are citizens of Wounded Knee, AIM Chapter,’ and we didn’t do that. We said, ‘No, we are not AIM, we are Civil Rights.’ We were there working for better rights for our people.”
Sadly, her beloved grandma died in 1980 from stomach cancer. “ I hate cancer,” Jackie said with a cringe. “I lost a niece to cancer too. Hopefully they will find a cure.”
Jackie and Gerald were married in September of 1973 and Jackie said one of the many things she loves about her husband is the way he looks at life. “First thing he does every morning when he gets up, he gets dressed and says, ‘It is a new day, let’s go.’ Everyday he says that, and that is how I try to look at things now,” she said.
From 1974 to 1980 Jackie worked at the Pine Ridge School and during that time gave birth to four strapping sons, Waylon, DJ, John and Willie Joe. “I had four boys and was still working at the school,” she said proudly.
“In 1980 I went to work for OLC. I started out as a Right to Read Tutor. It was more or less what the GED tutors do now, she explained. “Then I moved to a counselor position, then to Assistant Registrar and then I moved to Financial Director. I worked there until 1993. I left the college in 1993 due to a conflict between me and Mr. Arlyn Knutson. At that point I left the college and in 1995 I went to work for Head Start and worked there till 2001. And I quit there because I lost my son DJ on December 22, 2001. At that point I just quit working; I couldn’t even come out of it for like two years. He was 25 years old,” she said as a tear rolled down her cheek. “He had worked in Boston for a Dodge dealership for a year, and when he came back he went to Rapid City to attend the Lakota Nation Invitational. He was coming home on the Red Shirt Table Road, back then it was a highway and then turned into a dirt road, he must have just forgotten that it turned into a dirt road and hit it going about 70 miles and hour and lost control. At that point Gerald was on the council and he approached Daschle for the money to fix that road; to keep anybody else from dying on that road. Total cost of fixing the road cost approximately 12 million dollars. But at least we can say nobody has died on that road since. It needs fixing again, but at least it’s paved for now,” she said as she wiped another tear from her eye.
“In 2002 Gerald and I, along with nine others were indicted, based on lies from Housing. I was acquitted at trial and Gerald was acquitted by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Jackie said. “This was a hard time for us and we really found out who our friends were, as they called us and prayed for us,” she added.
In 2003 the University of Minnesota was conducting a 90 day study on obesity of children at all the reservation schools and Jackie worked with them, measuring and charting children’s body mass and height.
And in 2005 she was involved in an eight month program called Promises Tutoring. “I tutored children of all ages, K-8,” she said.
In 2008 she worked in the OST Fifth Member’s Office. “I worked there for two years. That was the first time I’ve ever been in politics,” Jackie said. While working in the Fifth Member’s office, Jackie helped Fifth Member Myron Pourier write a grant for a veteran’s cemetery for the tribe, which was funded. “Myron is a vet and that is what he wanted to do for the tribe,” Jackie said. “So that is what he is currently working on.”
In January of this year, Jackie was asked to take the 180 day temporary job as Education Counselor till it is advertised and filled. “This job was very exciting to me, working with kids again. I really do have a love for kids. And even working at Head Start, I thought that was the best job in the world, to go into the classroom and get hugs and kisses and all the good stuff that little kids do. And I missed that and working as Education Counselor was not only working with kindergarten, but was working with kids all the way through high school.”
John Yellow Bird Steele has committed his administration to the youth, and for the short time that Jackie served as Education Coordinator she worked very closely with the education committee of which Kevin Steele is the chairman and she was in the process of reciting children to attend a summer program at Crazy Horse Monument. “This summer at Crazy Horse Memorial University they have openings for 30 children. So I was trying to get the counselors to recruit 30 seniors all across the reservation to go spend the summer at Crazy Horse Monument and attend The Summer University Program of The Indian University of North America, which is a partnership between Crazy Horse Memor ial Foundat ion and The University of South Dakota,” Jackie said.
And then Jackie was asked to go back and work once again with Myron Pourier in the Fifth Member’s Office, so Monday, March 14, 2011 was her first day back there. “I’m back at the Fifth Member’s Office, as there are some deadlines that we need to make for the Vet’s Cemetery to happen,” she said.
The Big Crows have three grandchildren and Jackie’s advice to them and to all children is ‘Get an education.’ “Education is very important and it is something that nobody can take away from you,” she said. And she tells them, “You don’t need excuses. My motto, ‘don’t give them another excuse’. Kids don’t need excuses; they can do it if they put their minds to it. I was raised without a mother or father and if I can make it, anybody can. When I first started working, I had this little motto, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’ And I used to say that to myself all the time,” Jackie said. “And always say a prayer. I always prayed,” she added.
Contact Lil at email@example.com