Indians throughout the course of history have remained connected
to both each other and their culture by way of the heartbeat of
the drum and through annual pow wows.
Youpee grew up around the Oil Celebration once known as one
of the largest gatherings of American Indians on the Fort
Peck Reservation because his family lived and breathed the annual
of that example, Youpee, a volunteer of Helena's community pow wow
for five years, has been actively involved in organizing and volunteering
at pow wows for nearly 44 years.
recently, he began drumming after a newfound friend in Helena helped
him develop the skills he would need to become a drum keeper.
I drum, it feels like a sense of accomplishment because some of
the songs we sing are older than the United States," said Youpee.
is lead singer and drum keeper for the Magpie Singers, a locally
based group that was organized by Tom Sheehy more than a year and
a half ago. The group plans to sing at the 5th Annual Last Chance
Community Pow wow Sept. 26-28 at the Helena Civic Center.
had moved to Helena with his wife, the late Antonia Wheeler-Sheehy,
former director of the Helena Indian Alliance. Wheeler-Sheehy was
killed in a car wreck in January.
then, the group has continued to perform to American Indian and
non-Indian audiences in Helena and around the state.
Youpee, many American Indians living in the urban communities of
Montana are drawn to the steady beat of a hide drum.
brings back memories of an earlier time when pow wows brought in
the whole community," he said.
said he can remember when his people were not allowed to use hide
drums, but rather used the band style of drums because people were
superstitious about what might happen if American Indians drummed
so, he still remembers when his friends or family would practice
drumming and singing late into the evening.
some things have changed over the years regarding pow wows, Youpee
said, the life of the drum has survived and continues to reconnect
families and friends.
the old days, he said, the drum used to sit in the middle of the
circle while dancers danced around it. After one song would end,
another drum group would come out and retrieve the drum sticks and
then sit down on the same drum to play.
people bring their own drums and sticks. Youpee said there can be
nearly 20 drum groups waiting their turn to sing at any one pow
he is glad the drummers come.
heard it said that if the drum dies then so does our culture,"
of the pow wow-goers don't see each other the whole year, he said,
so that's when the pow wow really pulls everyone together.
recent change in pow wows is the competition attitude that has developed.
used to be that dancers would compete against the beat of the drum,
but today it's as though the dancers are competing more against
each other instead," Youpee said.
said the movement began years ago after many elders died off, leaving
a gap between the younger generations and traditions.
was then, he said, that contest dancing was started in hopes of
attracting younger people back into learning about their dances
the days when Youpee would pass out five to ten pounds of meat,
loaves of bread, butter and coffee to families and friends during
the Oil Celebration are as long gone as when he would see hundreds
of tepees surrounding a pow wow, he said, the pow wows still bring
a community together.
example, he said, most of the funding for the Last Chance Community
Pow Wow has come directly from local Helena businesses.
me, there is no right way or wrong way; it's all good when it's
presented in a good way," he said.
old belief among American Indians
old belief among many American Indians is that the drum is its own
sovereign entity, living a life of its own.
Youpee remembered what his mentor, Tom Sheehy, had told the group
when they first started to drum a year and half ago.
want to tell you we are going to split," said Sheehy. "There
are no hard feelings; it's just the way of the drum."
then, the drum group has split twice, said Youpee.
group practices on Wednesday and Thursday at the East Valley Middle
School Library in East Helena.
Shawn White Wolf can be reached email@example.com