Jenna Caplette migrated from California to Montana in the early 1970s, first living on the Crow Indian reservation, then moving to Bozeman where she owned a downtown retail anchor for eighteen years. These days she owns Bozeman BodyTalk & Energetic Healthcare, hosts a monthly movie night, teaches and writes about many topics.
The weekend of April 12 and 13th brings the Annual Montana State University American Indian Council Pow Wow. It’s free and open to the public. In fact, visitors are welcomed.
Pow-wow offers an opportunity to celebrate Montana’s heritage. Since my daughter Rose is half Crow-Indian, the MSU pow-wow has been part of her life since I carried her there in a cradle board.
Basically, a pow-wow is a gathering, a time to meet friends, new people, and to have fun. It’s a celebration of dance and music, of native culture and tradition. Many dances emulate a bird of one kind or another. For instance, traditional Crow-style men dancers emulate the Sage Grouse. In the old days, dances used to be particular by tribe or area, like the Crow Tribe, or the Northern Plains, but now dancers choose the style of dance by what they most enjoy. Their choice, and their way of dancing, express who they are.
When you watch a pow-wow, notice the different styles of outfits. The easiest to pick out might be women’s jingle dress dancers, outfits covered with metal cones. Plains traditional dancers usually wear buckskin outfits. Crow traditional dancers often wear wool dresses decorated with real or imitation elk-teeth. If a woman is carrying a shawl and wearing a dress decorated with ribbon, she’s probably a fancy dancer. The shawl is a piece of art by itself.
Some dancers are professionals who travel the pow-wow circuit competing for prize money. They will participate in contest dances, working to get points, to demonstrate their skill. Judges watch them for their participation in the inter-tribal dances as well.
When the announcer calls an inter-tribal, everyone dances, mixing styles of dancing together. It is during an inter-tribal that visitors can participate. First watch for awhile to get the feel for how to dance. It’s not at all like the dancing from old time Hollywood movies. Then, before you join in, you may want to check in with the arena director or assistants and ask if it’s a good time to do so.
If you want to take photographs, the Grand Entry event, held each night at 6 PM, offers a spectacular photographic opportunity. If you want to photograph a particular dancer, ask the person politely to take their picture. As with any other group of people, some don’t want their picture taken, some won’t mind.
This year’s host drum is “Young Spirit” and there is a contest for best drum group. Rose’s dad is a pow-wow singer. She says. “It makes my dad happy to sing from his heart. He has a passion for pow-wow music.”
When she was small, she used to sit on his lap and drum with him. For her, “Pow-wow is being the rhythm, the beat of the drums. You dance and you can feel it in your feet and you dance and you’re so proud of yourself.”
We take our best shawls, get ready for the inter-tribal.