Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 16, 2002 - Issue 74


pictograph divider


Native American Celebration Features Music, Dance, Memories

by Martin Kidston Helena Independent Record
Grand EntryHELENA, MT – The Calling Mountain drummers bide their time in the corner of the Holter Museum of Art, seated around a single cask as though it were a campfire.

With his long black hair and steady hand, Shawn Buffalo joins the drumming clan, and the tempo swells. Slowly, methodically, the pounding fills the hall. Boom, boom, boom, and the dancers stir.

This is the start of Tiospaye, a celebration of family and community – Native American style. It is a festival of dancers and drummers, flutists and singers, held once a year in Helena – last Saturday this year – to honor the memory of those who are gone, and those who have yet to arrive. Old friends are found. New friends are made. Tradition is carried forth.

The energy grows as if the drum were the heart of a giant beating loudly and the museum's stark white hall were the organ's chambers, pounding and echoing from the inside, out.

And when the giant comes to life the dancers glide atop their toes, unable to resist the spirit of the drum. A melody floats upon the music, soft then loud. Buffalo cries out "Yip, Yip" and the drumming slows.

"My grandmother used to tell me stories, how the people got their medicine bags," says Sharon Two-Teeth, who was only a child in 1940. She has come to watch her grandchildren dance.

When Two-Teeth was small she heard stories of a man who went to the mountains to find his medicine. But he was scared and the mountains sent him back. One day he found his courage and the man returned to the mountains. He stayed for three days and came out with his medicine song.

Yes, when she was younger, Two-Teeth used to dance. She still thinks about the man in the mountains. She thinks about his courage.

"My mother once told me, when you go out there to dance, you can't quit."

And no one does until the drumming slows, then stops. For now the heart lies still and the drummers light a braid of sweet grass and wash themselves in smoke. They must focus on the drum. They must focus on the ceremony – on Tiospaye.

Now it is time to begin – to truly begin. It is time for the grand entry. The beating heart comes to life, stronger than ever, and the dancers fill the hall.

Richie Two-Teeth is dancing in yellow. His cousin, John Two-Teeth, carries a staff with a two-pronged antler and a breastplate made from bone pipe. Brass beads are centered around an abalone shell.

Two-Teeth big and small dance and leap behind two women, who follow the men, who carry a flag and lead the procession.

At the front, Ken Howling Wolf is proud. His silver hair is braided long. He moves with precision, years of practice, with a tussle of eagle feathers spread across his back like the wings of a noble saint. His headdress is a crown of porcupine quills. His shield holds the silhouette of a buffalo and his breastplate, carved from black buffalo horn, sits below the bear claws dangling from his neck.

The claws were a gift from an ancestor and they are as mighty as the animal that sported them, and the man who wears them now.

Around the hall the crowd is gathered, young and old, nearly 50 strong. The spirit of the drum has found these people also, and they tap their toes, watching the procession. There are eyes filled with tears.

Nate St. Pierre, a professor of Native American studies at Montana State University-Bozeman, says Columbus came seeking passage to India. When he landed in America he named the natives Los Indianos, or Indians.

And so the name remains, but these dancers had names long before Columbus. They are the Blackfeet, Northern Cheyenne, Chippewa Cree and Lakota. They are the Pawnee, Chickasaw, Flathead, Crow, Sioux, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine. They are nations unto themselves. They are a living culture, not museum relics, and they dance.

They dance like Darrel Two-Teeth and Howling Wolf. They dance like the girl with the long black braid, spinning in a purple cape that flies about her body, fluttering like her ornamental butterflies.

She dances on her toes and spreads her arms as wings. She carries on in wild, happy circles. She dances between the Two-Teeth trio, the eldest moving like a rooster, his steps precise, his head bobbing.

They shake the wings of eagles and wave the talons of mighty raptors. They wear beads of a dozen colors and carry shields that whisper of the warriors who fought for their land. They beat drums stretched from horsehide, shake bells that jingle with each step and sing in unity.

They are 60,000 strong in Montana, and they've been here for a long time, dancing on Mother Earth. Now they dance for Tiospaye. Buffalo cries out, "Yip, Yip," and dancing doesn't stop.

Helena, MT Map
Maps by Travel

pictograph divider


Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!