been a yearlong journey for a core group of Indian students at the
University of Montana, but their exhaustive mission ends this weekend
in a glorious celebration.
Drums will thunder and fancy shawls will
twirl in time to fancy footwork at the 34th annual Kyi-Yo Powwow,
one of the oldest student-organized powwows in the nation.
"It's just been crazy," said
Natasha Pipe, a UM student who has attended to the minute details
of the event as president of UM's Kyi-Yo Native American Student
"I've helped out before, but this
year I really understand what a task it is," she said. "It's
like a full-time job, and for all of us, we have to do all of the
planning around our class times."
"We have been waiting for this weekend
for so long," she added, "we are so glad it is finally
Despite the massive effort it has taken
for the 15-member crew to plan the event for thousands of people,
schedule 50-some events and powwow competitions, attract 900-plus
dancers and dozens of drumming groups from around the nation, the
effort has culminated in a deep sense of accomplishment and pride,
the student organizers said.
"It's an honor to coordinate this
and bring the campus, visitors and community members together to
celebrate and have a good time," Pipe said.
"And just making it aware in the
Missoula community that natives are here," said Pipe whose
tribal heritage is Chippewa-Cree. "And to showcase that pride.
"We all want to carry on to give
some justice to this, and hopefully build on a larger powwow each
"It's a big production," said
Jennifer Stiffarm, secretary of the Kyi-Yo student association.
"I'm really excited for this powwow,
because I think we are going to have a lot more people than we have,"
said Stiffarm who is Gros Ventre and Chippewa.
There's extra excitement in the air for
Stiffarm, because the UM sophomore's 2-year-old son, Loren, will
dance in the tiny tot competition.
They have been preparing for the big event
by doing what they do most days.
"We listen to powwow music all the
time," Stiffarm said. "He likes to dance. And my whole
family is coming down from Bainville."
What sets this powwow apart from the other
33 powwows before is that this year two UM students have been asked
to be the head male dancer and the head female dancer. It's an honor
normally reserved for the best male and female dancers in the adult
dancing categories, Pipe said.
"The Kyi-Yo committee thought that
this year it would be cool to get some student representation in
there," she explained.
Alden Spoonhunter and Vina Little Owl
will represent UM's Indian students throughout the weekend.
"The honor is great," said Little
Owl who is Gros Ventre. "It is a privilege to represent Kyi-Yo
as head woman dancer."
Little Owl said she also believes this
year's powwow will be the biggest one ever.
"Many of my friends along the powwow
trail have already contacted me and are really excited for it,"
she said. "I have friends from all over Indian Country who
are coming, mostly from Canada. They said they would come. I'm just
waiting to see. They said they wanted to come and support the powwow
and support me as head woman dancer."
Little Owl said her main duty as a head
dancer will be to encourage all the other dancers competing in the
powwow, particularly women dancers, to participate in all the events.
Of all the weekend's events, Little Owl
said she is most excited about the Iron Women Special. The event
is an endurance competition for women who dance in a spontaneous
style that is inspired by traditional dance steps.
"The women represent a butterfly
with their shawls, and there is lots of spinning and fast, fancy
footwork," she said. "It's a great audience event, where
audiences really get into it."
For Little Owl, the weekend is a time
of renewing cultural ties, and educating the non-Indian world about
Montana's rich Indian culture.
The Kyi-Yo Powwow, she said, is an opportunity
for the non-Indian community to learn a little more about this state's
and this country's hidden history.
"I think in general most Americans
are just now getting introduced to Native Americans and a lot of
Americans don't know about Indian life," she said.
Her opinion, she said, comes from her
experience with other UM students who ask her about her background.
Like all good education, learning comes
by doing and seeing, to which Little Owl adds:
"I'd like to invite the whole Missoula
community to check out the powwow and come and take in the experience
of watching our Native American dance styles. Everyone is welcome."