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Russians Visit Weatherman Draw
by Ann Boucher, Montana State Office, and Susie Becker, Altai Assistance Project
Hubert Two Leggins shares a Crow legend with the group at Valley of the Shields. Some of the shield figure pictographs are on the rock wall behind him.
Photo by Ann Boucher
The rock walls of Weatherman Draw attracted ancient artists.
September 25 was an international event at Weatherman Draw south of Bridger, Mont. Three Russian students and their interpreter went there with BLM archeologists and other local experts to learn about the area’s cultural sites and how they are protected and managed-- knowledge that the students will apply in their own country.
The gathering was initiated by the Altai Assistance Project (www.altaiassistanceproject.org), a non-profit organization based in Wadhams, N.Y., in the Adirondack Park. The AAP helps the Altai Republic, a small ethnic republic of Russia, with the conservation and development of its environment and communities.
The Altai Republic is located on the southwestern edge of Siberia where Russia borders Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia. It is an unspoiled and undeveloped land of forests, open rangeland, and mountain peaks as high as 15,000 feet. Of the 200,000 people in the Altai Republic, approximately 60,000 are native Altains. Agriculture, mostly livestock, is the primary occupation, although tourism is becoming important. Physically, the Altai resembles Montana and the Altai visitors felt very much at home here.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and as the Russian economy has improved, the Altai is seeing increasing tourism and pressure from developers. So far there are few facilities or designated areas for tourists, and the growing tourism rate is impacting both the natural environment and the traditional way of life.
The Altai people want to protect their sacred sites and culture from overdevelopment and privatization of land. To that end, the AAP is helping them develop plans for land use, eco-tourism, and wildlife management. One of their methods is to sponsor reciprocal visits of land use professionals between the U.S. and the Altai. The subject of each exchange is based on the needs and interests of the Altai.
The stop at Weatherman Draw was part of a larger, two-week tour of Yellowstone National Park and surrounding region during which the students saw many natural and cultural treasures. Weatherman Draw was of great interest to the Altai guests. Theirs is an ancient culture, and the Altai countryside boasts petroglyphs and rock art which are being threatened by tourism and encroaching development. They are looking for ways to protect their national treasures and were anxious to see how these artifacts are protected in the U.S.
The visiting Russian students are the three top graduates of a 500-hour course called “Biodiversity Conservation by Preparation of Tourism Guides” at the University of Gorno Altaisk in the Altai Republic. Although they all know some English, the three communicated primarily through an interpreter. Anna Mashegova is a student in the natural sciences and wants be an agent for developing tourism in the Altai. Pavel Aronov is a mathematics student and works as an enforcement officer in one of the national parks (Zapavedniks) in the Altai. Ejer Pavlov is a native Altain and works as a tour guide at Tarhatinskoye Lake. Interpreter Natalya Yurkova is a professor of English and Dean of International Studies at GASU. Their driver, Susie Becker, is a volunteer with the AAP in New York.
Several people had a hand in making the trip to Weatherman Draw worthwhile for everyone. Carolyn Sherve-Bybee, archeologist for the Billings Field Office, arranged the logistics. Other participants were Michael Brody, a professor of Science Education at MSU-Bozeman who is developing an exchange program with the University in Gorno Altaisk; Dr. Dudley Gardner from Western Wyoming College, who is conducting a systematic cultural inventory of Weatherman Draw and the surrounding area for the BLM Billings Field Office; Jone Balenaivalu of Fiji, whose job is the equivalent to the State Historic Preservation Officer here in the U.S.; Wayne Paulsen from the BioRegions project in Colorado; Gary Smith, archeologist from the BLM Montana State Office; Melissa Passes, natural resource specialist with the Billings Field Office; Jeanne Moe from BLM-Washington Office, who works with MSU-Bozeman to develop environmental education materials; and Hubert Two Leggins, who shared oral histories and legends of the Crow Tribe with the group.