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SKC’s first powwow ignites passion, reunites families

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PABLO — As dancers and spectators lined up outside Salish Kootenai College’s gymnasium doors Friday, Spirit of the Bison student organization president ShiNaasha Pete let slip a modest smile. 

“I’m proud, but I’m not just proud of myself,” she said. “I’m proud of all my club members and I’m also really proud of the community for standing behind us. It’s really amazing because we were really behind in all of our advertising. We didn’t even get a powwow poster out ... word of mouth was how it got around. This is a really strong powwow community and that’s why I love living here.”

The event was the first annual SKC Powwow. Pete said that while the school traditionally has a graduation powwow run by the students, this powwow was the first of its kind.

“I never really liked the graduation powwow being a competition powwow,” Pete said. “I wanted it to be more for the graduates and their families rather than a contest taking away from their hard-earned achievements. This first annual SKC Powwow is the first one to represent the college itself. The last powwow was for graduation, but this is the ... the SKC Powwow, so we’re really excited.”

Hundreds of dancers and spectators from as far away as Oregon, Washington and Idaho were in attendance, including the Veteran Warrior Society. The group of veterans proudly lead the opening procession onto the dance floor, hoisting high the star-spangled banner alongside the CSKT flag and dancing to one of 10 drum circles around the floor. 

“I’ve been to a lot of powwows, and from the college’s standpoint, I think it’s really good,” said VWS president Dick Reed. “You have students from not only the reservation, but from all over the United States who go to school here, and a lot of them have no idea what Native Americans are about.”

Reed said that while he grew up on the Flathead Reservation, he now lives in the Bitterroot area. The region is one of the original homes of the Salish, yet Reed said few in the area know anything about Native American culture. 

“They’re just on cloud nine and have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “‘Oh, reservation, we know where it’s at but we’ve never been there.’ That’s why this powwow is good in a way — other people now know our traditions, what we’re about and a lot of our beliefs.”

SKC instructor and Spirit of the Bison advisor Allen Addison said his club had worked hard and the powwow had a been a goal for a long time. He adding that he hoped the event would reflect a confluence among the 40 to 60 different tribes represented in the SKC student body during a given year. 

“The energy, the music, all the dancing and great regalia our ancestors wore keeps us connected to our ancestors,” Addison said. “We want to keep this going year after year and make it something people can look forward to every year. We want people to talk about the SKC powwow.”

Across the gym floor filled with dazzling colors and passionate dancers, Taunie Cullooyah braided and styled young Louis Cullooyah’s hair in preparation for their third powwow in two days. 

“I love the dancing,” Taunie said while smiling at the dance floor. “We’re having a great time.”

Not far away, John ‘Lefty’ Hendrickx leaned against a wall and watched his nephew, who he’d not seen in four years, put many to shame with his passionate and intense style of dance. His nephew had traveled all the way from Bozeman for the powwow.

“Do you see him? The one dancing really well,” Hendrickx beamed. “I haven’t seen him in four years, but he’s dancing really well.”

And so, having stitched families and friends back together under one roof to unite in a common cause, Pete let the humility slide for a moment and gave way to a bit of well-deserved pride. 

“It’s going so well, and it’s really been quite the year and a roller coaster of emotions, but we did it,” she said. 

“I’m really proud of everybody hanging in there and getting it done. We pulled together and pulled it off.”

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