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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Nicholas Vrooman, 1949-2019

Tuesday, October 29, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jessica Turner
By Mike Korn —

Nicholas Vrooman came to Montana in 1975, to work as a ranch hand on the Mannix Ranch outside of Helmville. That experience made a pretty big impression on him, working in beaverslide country side-by-side with ranchers and cowboys in the Blackfoot Valley -- an' taking in a big ol' gulp of Montana culture. In time, he went on to build a prodigious career as one of our regions’ premiere and most passionate advocates of traditional culture- our folklife- and the many peoples who make up the patchwork quilt of the American West. For us in Montana, he served as State Folklorist, and was involved in helping build the foundation for the Butte Folk Festival. His knowledge and active support of the many folk cultures of the Treasure State was second to none. Nick’s Montana was one of cowboy poets and ranchers, Butte ethnics, our many Indigenous Peoples, miners, cooks, singers, fiddlers, bootmakers, beaders, quilters, drummers, storytellers—all of the folks who put their particular brand on and make this The Last Best Place. In essence, Nick played cultural back-up guitar, always putting the traditional folks up front and center stage, all the while keeping steady background rhythm to support them in any way he could- and never missing a beat. He was both an academic with very impressive credentials as well as a popular writer and speaker. Throughout it all, he never lost the folksy touch. Nick came to be one of the most knowledgeable and ardent advocates on behalf of the Little Shell Band through his work in the further documentation of their history and culture. Also called the Metis, their history and role in the West and Montana was not as well-known but was as strong as the other Great Plains Native peoples. Nick’s tireless research, writing, and interviews became an important lynchpin in their struggle for federal tribal recognition. His efforts also succeeded in creating an awareness and appreciation of the Metis that spread far outside of western Native communities. A list of his accomplishments, friendships, work- the totality of his efforts and life on behalf of Montana as well as America’s folk cultures would go on for volumes. We lost Nick suddenly on June 26th. I think of him now, his legs dangling over the edge of the wagon box of an old,squeaky celestial Red River cart, grinning ear to ear, enveloped and embraced by the hop-scotch double-stop rhythms of Metis fiddlers ….and maybe even jumpin’ down and dancing a little Red River jig himself…. amongst the stars across the Montana sky….…. One Robe. So long, Nick. It’s been good to know ya’.

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