January 31, 2008



MSU Billings Inter-Tribal Indian Club, 657-2182
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Student-led event will be held at new venue this year


img descriptMSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — In a corner of an indoor field where Billings Outlaws receivers are used to practicing touchdown catches, three men knelt this week for a different sort of practice.


It started with a gentle, heartbeat-steady rhythm from a small drum. It’s followed by singing from Marcus Red Thunder, starting as quietly as a sparrow’s flight.  Josiah Hugs and Craig Falcon join in and soon the rafters of the Billings Outlaws Sportsplex are barely able to contain the song.


The drumming and singing was a small taste of what’s in store for the upcoming Montana State University Billings Inter-Tribal Indian Club’s 40th annual pow wow.  The event is organized by students and volunteers and is the one of the largest university-sponsored pow wows in the Northwest. 

This year’s pow wow is set for April 11 and 12, and will be held at Outlaws Sportsplex, 5000 Southgate Drive, just west of Geyser Park off of South Billings Blvd.  Admission is $7 per day for adults or $12 for a weekend pass, which includes three grand entries. Admission for youth between the ages of 6-13 are $5 per day or $9 for the weekend. Children ages 6 and under and MSU Billings students with a current student ID are admitted free.


It is an alcohol-free event and families are invited to take part in the pow wow, which could draw thousands of participants from around the region.


Pow Wow dancingRed Thunder and Falcon will serve as the emcees for the event while Hugs, a member of the MSU Billings Inter-Tribal Indian Club, has been among the throng of volunteers who have been recruiting drum groups and dancers for the pow wow.  All three were on hand to check the sound system this week at the Outlaws training facility and shared a song.


Falcon, a Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from Browning and the president of the Inter-Tribal Indian Club, said this year’s event is a tribute to warriors past and present. There will be an honor guard from the Plenty Coups Veterans Society and the Young Gray Horse drum group from Browning to help honor veterans and warriors from tribes across Montana.


“We’ll have a veterans honors dance and also a faculty honors dance,” said Falcon. “There has been a lot of work that has gone into this and it will be great.”


Doors open at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 11 with the first grand entry at 6 p.m. followed by a variety of dance competitions. Saturday’s schedule includes two grand entries, one at noon and another at 6:30 p.m. A student/faculty honor dance with special recognition for Dr. Jeffrey Sanders, associate professor of Native American Studies at MSU Billings is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. A veteran’s honor dance will be held after the 6:30 p.m. grand entry Saturday. 


As with pow wows of the past, there will be a variety of competitions for men, women, teenagers and junior dancers with prize money given to the top dancers in those categories.  The Head Man Dancer this year is Winston Caufield and the Head Woman Dancer is Olivia Mann.


According to research done by the Inter-Tribal Indian Club, the pow wow tradition began in times of need, guidance and sickness, when tribes prayed and gave by means of spiritual fasts, sweats and sacrifice.  Prayers were answered through the voices of nature, thus establishing the spirit of nature and man as one.  This explains the reasoning for the creation of the clan system and its respect for the balance of nature.  Each clan, like nature, has a function and responsibility within the nation.  Both nation and clan affiliation can be seen in color combinations, design and ornaments and those can be seen in various dances.


Numbers also were very important with respect to nature and the Indian way of life. The number four is held sacred by most tribes in respect to the Four Cardinal Directions, as well as the Creator, in the context of the symbol of the cross. The cross always has been synonymous with the Great Spirit, even before the first Christian missionaries came to North America, and is referred to by indigenous peoples as the "Medicine Wheel."  The Spirit of Power is held sacred in the combination of certain colors, designs, and numbers.


Eventually, songs and dances evolved around the imitation of animals and the natural forces that were held sacred. Many of these sacred dances, because of their religious significance and spirituality, are not performed in public. Others, like the Grass Dance, Owl Dance, Fancy Dance and Chicken Dance continue to be part of the public pow wows held each year.


These days, pow wow time is the American Indian way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and make new ones. This is a time to renew thought of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage.


For more information on the 40th annual pow wow, contact members of the Inter-Tribal Indian Club or advisor Quentin Gilham at 657-2182.


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