Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 5, 2001 - Issue 35



Class Teaches Planners How to Host Indian Event


 by BETSY COHEN of the Missoulian


photo by Paul Barry

The 33rd annual Kyi-Yo Powwow promises to be one of the smoothest-running events in the powwow's history, thanks to the dedication of 20 University of Montana students.

For the first time in recent years - if ever - the students who plan the event and attend to all of its time-consuming details, have been participating in a class dedicated to learning about powwows, and how to host one.

"For the past many years, the Native American Studies program has tried to alleviate some of the load for students, by giving them (some) education credits," said Kate Shanley, director of Native American Studies. "But we decided it would be better to have a structured way to do this in an orderly fashion."

To that end, the department created the course, "Powwow Seminar."

"In addition to putting this huge powwow on for the community - and beyond - the students have this huge education component," Shanley said. "It's just exciting. Over time, we hope it becomes an institutional offering."

The students themselves said the class has been a crucial tool for organizing the colossal event, which typically draws more than 3,000 spectators and hundreds of dancers and drummers.

In years past, the event was cobbled together through a volunteer student effort. By the time the powwow drew near, the volunteers became increasingly stressed trying to make sure the event happened, and keep up with their studies and prepare for final exams, said Gisele Forrest, a UM senior.

"This class is really helpful because there is a lot of work in planning a powwow and it usually, as in the past, gets down to about 10 people who do it," Forrest said. "A lot more things were able to get done more quickly this year. Rather than have four people doing it, we have 20."

The pioneering seminar group will leave behind at semester's end a powwow blueprint for student event planners to use next year, and who, like future seminar students, will continue to build on and improve the process, Shanley said.

"This is a lot of event planning," Forrest said. "It's not something too many of us have that much experience in or know how to do."

But Forrest and her colleagues are extremely pleased with how all the details have come together.

"This year we are right on top of stuff," said Wilena Old Person, a UM junior. "It is only Wednesday, and we are troubleshooting now."

"This will be one of the best years of the Kyi-Yo Powwow," she said.

As of Wednesday, 300 dancers are registered to perform during the weekend events, and 14 five-person teams of native high school teams from across the state will participate in the Jordan Carson Memorial Scholastic Bowl on Thursday.

Adding to the festivities, Old Person said, are several renown Indian drumming groups, including the Washington-based Black Lodge Singers, who were nominated for a Grammy Award this year.

For Forrest, who will soon graduate with a business degree, attending to powwow details this year is even more important for her than in years past.

"I helped planned this when I was a freshman and sophomore, but now that I am graduating, I wanted to be involved with Kyi-Yo again," Forrest said. "Most of my family and relatives will be there; rather than come to graduation, they will see me and support me in the powwow."

Forrest, who is Assiniboine, will honor a tribal tradition and hold a "give-away" for her relatives, who are traveling from eastern Montana to celebrate her graduation.

"In native culture, when a person holds an important position or is going through a passage of life, we have a "give-away," she said. "At the powwow, I will give gifts to those who have helped me through my life."

University of Montana




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