On Sunday, Todd and I went to the Standing Arrow Powwow on the Flathead Indian Reservation, north of Missoula, home to the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribes. (“Salish” also refers to a group of languages spoken by northwestern American Indians.) I had a blast at my second powwow ever. It was much smaller and more intimate than the powwow in Denver; also, it was held outside, in this open, circular building.Standing Arrow Powwow, Flathead Indian Reservation The Denver powwow had more vendors, but I liked the small scale of this gathering and the openness of the setting. Luckily, the roof blocked the sun, so we were pretty cool until later in the afternoon, when the sun started coming in our side.

The chairs in the picture above belong to the dancers and their families. We sat in some bleachers behind a group of disabled people who were on a group outing. I noticed the white people tended to sit together on the bleachers at this powwow, whereas most of the American Indian attendees had brought their own chairs and sat on the floor, closer to the dancers.

We showed up for the last day, when the champion dancers were selected. Judging from the tents and RVs set up around the arena, many people came from far enough away to want to camp. smart car on Flathead Indian ReservationThere were showers in the bathrooms where people cleaned up before the Grand Entry at 2 pm on Sunday. I thought the entire facility was pretty nice.

I don’t have any pictures of the dancers. I had wanted to take pictures and emailed the powwow committee to ask about policies. They wrote back that I should ask the dancers if I could take their pictures and get written permission if I wanted to sell the images later. That made taking a picture of the Grand Entry an impossible task.

Yet when I was at the powwow, several people (mostly white) were taping the Grand Entry, and one man got right up on the floor and took pictures of people as they were dancing during the opening ceremonies. I noticed some people subtly turning away from him, but no one told him to stop. He seemed to know people at the powwow, so perhaps he has been covering it for many of its thirty-three years.

I would imagine that the younger participants, particularly the teenagers, wouldn’t mind having their pictures taken as much as some of the older dancers. I noticed some kids taking videos of the drum circles, which were fun to watch and listen to.

We were starving when we arrived, so one of the first things we did was get lunch. I was happy to see this stand. There was another food stand selling tacos, but the frybread was smaller and the guacamole looked like it came out of a can. Navajo tacos, powwow circuit, Flathead Reservation, Beth Partin's photosI was impressed by this woman’s tip jar. Talk about upcycling! I felt compelled to add to the stash. Navajo tacos, Indian tacosI could have had teriyaki if I’d wanted it, but I was happy with my golden frybread and beans—and with the ice cream I got afterward.

Once fed, we were ready for the Grand Entry, which lasted from about 2 to 3. Then the emcee asked some of the dancers to talk about themselves. Before the dance finals got started in earnest, the emcee invited the “non-contest golden age participants” onto the floor to dance, first the women and then the men. He asked us to stand while they were dancing.

The finals started with teen girls, first the fancydancers (the girls wear shawls, unlike the boys, who wear bustles in back and roaches on their heads); then the jingle dancers, whose dresses feature rows of cone-shaped metal pieces (they used to be made from rolled-up coffee-can lids, but now I think dancers can buy pre-made ones to sew onto their regalia); and then the traditional dancers. The boys went in the same order, but instead of jingle dances, they perform grass dances. I noticed there were more teen boy grassdancers than fancydancers.

After the teenagers finished, the men and women danced. By that time it was past 5 o’clock, and although I wanted to see whether a particular teenage girl with a yellow shawl won the fancydance contest, I also wanted to eat some dinner and get Todd to the National Bison Range, which was on the way back to Missoula.

We stayed to watch a little of the intertribal dance, which I think is the time when anyone at the powwow can dance. The floor filled up, with some people actually dancing and others walking and talking with friends. On the way to the car, we watched a stickgame, which didn’t make much sense to us even after we read the article on Wikipedia.

It was a long day for Todd, who didn’t get to see much of the National Bison Range, but I could have stayed longer. Sometime I’ll have to make a weekend of it.

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  1. […] you’ve read Beth’s article on the Standing Arrow Pow Wow, you know that we didn’t take any photos of the dancers.  Beth and I were prepared to take […]

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