“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;
A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4
King James Version
Although life can be very difficult and a place for break down, violence and mourning, Little Joan baai’a was a gift: she brought laughter, song, and love to those who were blessed to be in her presence and for those she has now joined in heaven. And, though her season in our lives has now past, she planted a deep sense of joy and uncompromising love for all to learn from.
Joan baai’a was born in Crow Agency, Montana in 1942. She is the daughter of Norton Bear Below and Theresa Reed. Joan’s father Norton Bear Below was a veteran of World War II and was deployed in Japan. Joan’s Crow Indian name “Baapuxte diilish” (Walking Otter) was given to her by her grandfather. Joan was a member of the Catholic Church and a member of the Big Lodge Clan of the Absaslooke (Crow) Tribe. When Joan was very young, she lived in St. Xavier with her mother after her father’s passing. One day her paternal grandmother Mary Ann Horn and Aunt Joan Horn went after her from Lodge Grass in a horse drawn wagon. From this time Joan was adopted by her grandmother Mary Ann Horn. Because of her intuitive sense of humor, infectious laugh and special gift for song and dance, Joan was a blessing to all those who knew and loved her. Reflecting on the past, family members recall those times before electricity and television, when Joan’s Uncle Floyd Horn would play the guitar, and Joan would join in and dance with each song. She would make everyone laugh and be happy. This instilled in Joan a love for music and dancing, which developed to adulthood. Joan especially loved the music of, “Elvis Presley,” and she collected Elvis Memorabilia throughout her lifetime. Joan once told her grandkids that Elvis was the father of her children. Joan listened to rock and roll music with singers such as Rod Stewart, CCR and Tom Petty. When Joan wasn’t jamming to music she would often watch scary movies, go out to eat and visit family and friends.
Joan had a special relationship with her late adopted sister, Joan Horn. Joan was affectionately known as, “Joan Baai’a,” which is translated in the Crow language as, “Little Joan.” Joan was raised by her paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Horn and adopted siblings, Joan and Forest Horn, in Lodge Grass on their ranch in No Water.
Joan developed a love for horses and was an avid horseback rider, which became a daily routine. One of Joan’s fond memories was riding horses from the family ranch. She did this in, “No Water,” to the site of the Crow Fair Celebration with the family. Joan participated in horse racing and barrel racing while growing up in the Horn Family. Joan’s memories include her fun experience riding, “Lullaby,” one of the family horses. Often times meals were brought to her and Floyd so that they could enjoy their meal while sitting on their horses. Joan attended the Lodge Grass Public Schools in Lodge Grass, Montana. She later married Silas Big Medicine. In 1960, Joan and her family moved to Chicago, Illinois where they made their home until 1964. Joan’s dedication to her family is evident. She provided care to her children as well as emotional support and mentoring to her husband while he participated in the, “Relocation Program,” co-hosted by the Crow Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Chicago. Joan was a beautiful and compassionate woman. She made everyone that knew her feel loved and cared for. Joan was the epitome of kindness. She reminded family members to give their children space to learn. Joan and Silas were active in the Crow Social Circles such as hand games, Sundance and peyote meetings where Silas was always called on to do event singing.
After returning to the Crow Reservation, Joan and her family made their home in the Black Lodge District. Joan worked very hard to support her family, doing construction jobs and working at the carpet mills. Joan began a professional life in the Indian Health Service and served for 29 years as a dietician in Crow Agency, Montana. Upon retiring, Joan traveled with her sister, Joan Horn, to enjoy sightseeing the country. Joan was very industrious and lived her life dedicated to her family. She built her own home in Dunmore, Montana. She did this without governmental assistance, and always welcomed everyone with a smile and offers of food and refreshments. Joan took good care of her home and ensured that it was clean and tidy at all times for her family. She made small moments special such as showing family members all the spots that were missed when cleaning. The rocks in the sweat were always ready for a good sweat at her home. Family was important to Joan and she provided unconditional love and prayed for the wellbeing and safety of all her family and friends. Joan was the glue that held the family together. Her biggest wish was for her grandkids to live a long, healthy, happy and successful life. Most of all, and along with the love of her children, Joan cherished all her grandchildren and great grandchildren including; Kyle, Jihan Dylan, Zeta, April, Christopher, Jolynn, Jayanna, Kerwin, Asia, Kenyon, Arlene, Antonia, Misty Rose and Darla. As well as her great grandchildren; Ezeqial, Cailyn, Asher, Brendan, Timberly, Bridger, Marley Alicia, Abram, Kurtis and Konner.
Joan was preceded in death by her husband Silas; parents Norton Bear Below and Theresa Reed; son Frank, grandson Silas Big Medicine, II and brothers Artie Holds and Robert Big Medicine.
She is survived by daughters Elverna and Wilhelmina Big Medicine and Marjean (Bemus) Big Hair; sons Eddie (Lori), Morton (Cedar) Big Medicine, Hubert (Billie) Two Leggins and step-son Lawrence Pete Big Hair. Following Crow Tradition, Joan adopted her son-in-law Harrison Old Elk as her son; brothers Richard (Wyma) Little Light, Henry (Mary) Little Light, Aloysious Holds, Ernie (Jane) Holds, Daniel (Leitha) Gun Shows, Floyd Horn, Samuel (Darla) Horn, Gerald Reed and Alden Big Man, Sr.; sisters Shirley Bad Bear, Una Little Light, Rosella (Ike) Shane, Vina (Richard) White, Vicky Holds, Rosaline (Loren) Old Bear, Joanie (Frank) Rowland, Rhonda Horn (Larry Hogan), Trivian (Jeff) Rides the Bear, Victoria Brown, Delores Washington-Bull Horse; uncle Lloyd (Elvina) Pickett; families include the Pickett, Reed, Chavez, Couture, Hogan, Snell, Stevenson, Redstar, Driftwood, Carpenter, Bird, Wesley, Black Hair, High Nose, Bear Below and Horn families.
We would like to say a special thank you to the Billing’s Dialysis Clinic Staff, Crow Indian Health Service, Crow Tribal CHR Staff, Ponderosa Pines Care Center and her special friend Deanne Milda.