August 8, 2014 |

Hi-Line Living: Rocky Boy powwow celebrates culture

The 2014 50th Annual Rocky Boy Celebration and Powwow brought several hundred dancers to compete in the three-day powwow.

Eric Seidle
Ronald WindyBoy of Great Falls, a Vietnam War veteran, leads the Grand Entry at Friday night\'s opening ceremony at the Rocky Boy powwow.

Dustin Whitford, one of the main organizers of the event, said he thought the powwow was a success.

"In my mind - in my own personal opinion - it was a huge success," Whitford said. " ... A lot of people got to come here and enjoy themselves."

In all, the powwow saw 782 registered dancers compete for the grand prize this year in addition to the number of nonregistered dancers at the powwow every year.

Whitford said some of the main differences in the powwow this year were the weather, the deliberate change in vendors and the number of participants.

"The weather this year was perfect powwow weather," Whitford said.

That made for beautiful days at the powwow grounds, as did some changes made to the restrictions on vendors. Specifically, and especially, the powwow committee excluded toy vendors and that meant less of a mess left at the grounds for organizers to clean up.

Vendors had a more traditional focus, as well.

"We did our best to promote native vendors," Whitford said.

The vendors mainly sold more traditional arts and crafts - if they were not selling food, which had a wide variety of choices. Mexican, Chinese, traditional American food and general fair and festival food kept spectators and visitors well fed for the weekend.

There were also more dancers in the powwow than there were last year. Whitford said numerous factors decide how many dancers will be at the powwow, like if there is another powwow going on somewhere else, weather and other factors.

The powwow also brought internationally known drum groups and singers to Rocky Boy.

The drum group which took first place for the original singing contest was the Midnight Express, which has traveled overseas to share its songs and is well known throughout the powwow world in the Americas.

The Boys took first for the contemporary category.

"You get a lot of good singers here every year," Whitford said.

He added that the powwow sees many of the same groups, but the winners of the group categories vary from year to year to make for a healthy competition.

The prize money amounts also changed from last year's powwow. This year, the first-place dancers of 22 categories each received $1,300. The top five dancers of each category were paid out, dropping in $300 increments from the first prize.

Last year, the top prize was $1,000. Whitford said the amount paid out to winners varies each year depending of how many sponsors the powwow gets. Registration for the dancers is free, so the entirety of the prize money is donation-based from sponsors of the event.

"The dancers, in my mind, are all champions," Whitford said. "It's too bad we couldn't give them all first place."

The powwow was also visited by U.S. Senator John Walsh, who presented a flag for the late John Stump, a highly decorated soldier from Rocky Boy. He also carried the U.S. flag for the Saturday grand entry.

"We were very honored for him to help us like that in our grand entry," Whitford said.

He went on to say that the affiliation of any politician who visits the powwow does not matter when they arrive.

"Having that support and that leadership involved - it's an honor for our tribe," Whitford said.

One of the biggest highlights of the weekend was Sunday night, at the men's fancy dance special, which is a special event outside of the main competition.

The special was Northern vs. Southern fancy dancers. Whitford said the two styles are similar in that they are both fast, but one is a little faster. The special was judged by big names in the powwow world, all former fancy dance champions from the 1970s to '90s.

Ruben Little Head, one of the announcers for the powwow, encouraged the judges to dance at least one verse during the special and these champions performed their old dances in their street clothes.

"If you're a powwow fan, it was a treat to see these gentlemen again dance," Whitford said. "To see these champions, who haven't danced in up to 20 years, dance again was amazing."

The whirling of colors and traditional song and dance at the Rocky Boy powwow grounds were sure to inspire spectators to be proud of their culture or of a culture they had the privilege of experiencing and taking part in.

Those gathered in the stands at the powwow were treated to a taste of a world that was on this land far before they were - a world that still stands strong to this day.

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