'It's just something I crave': a young Native American finds her home in rodeo

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For some Native Americans – particularly those who belong to federally unrecognized tribes without reservations – rodeos offer a way to stay connected to their culture and community

Words and photos by Eli Imadali

Rodeo is everywhere in Keira Simonson’s life. It’s in the 22-year-old’s kitchen as a team picture pinned to the fridge. It’s hanging in her bathroom as a horse-themed towel. It’s decorating her truck floor as muddy boots with spurs attached. It’s her weekends and her escape.

As an enrolled member of the more than 5,400-strong Little Shell Chippewa Tribe of Montana – which was, until recently, federally unrecognized and without a designated reservation – Simonson often felt removed from the larger Native American community and its culture. But rodeos have become her way of staying connected.

Top: Simonson and her brother, Buckshot, wait for her run at the Copper Springs Ranch rodeo, just outside of Bozeman, Montana. Below: Details of the rodeo are peppered throughout Simonson’s life.

Related: ‘Fire is medicine’: the tribes burning California forests to save them

Keira Simonson rides her horse, Diesel, during a rodeo barrel race.

Simonson, age four, on her father’s horse.

Top and bottom: Keira Simonson readies for competition by resting her horse and prepping her trailer.

Simonson jokes around with her aunt, Billie Jo, and her mother, Judy, while waiting for her brother’s run at the Copper Springs Ranch barrel race.

Photos from recent races hang on the wall in Simonson’s home.

Simonson and Alexis Rose, a close friend, on horseback together at the first University of Montana rodeo team practice of 2019 in February, outside of Lolo, Montana.

Simonson saddles up her barrel racing horse, Diesel, while her mother gets a bridle from their trailer.

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