In late July, Travis Goldtooth, who also goes by Buffalo Barbie, took a 900-mile road trip from her home in small, conservative Farmington, N.M., to Blacktail Ranch, a lonely homestead perched high in a valley in Wolf Creek in a part of Montana even locals refer to as the middle of nowhere. The drive from the south meanders along the eastern edge of the Continental Divide through a complex landscape that follows Montana’s golden prairies racing into the Rocky Mountains. Roadside biker bars and one-horse towns rise and fall from view in the same undulation as the mountains. Seen from the distance through the thin light in the north country, some of these mountains look hellish and jagged, others fat, grassy, and long, like giant, sleeping, yellow dogs flecked with pine trees.
Montana remains very much a land of cowboys and Indians. Whites make up about 90% of the population, and Native Americans — mostly Blackfeet, Chippewa Cree, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and Flathead — are, at just less than 7%, the state’s second most visible ethnic group. This weekend, Goldtooth is among 70 Native Americans from tribes across the continent — from Alberta, Delaware, Georgia, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, and Washington — who are converging for the Montana Two Spirit Society’s annual gathering.