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Standing Arrow Powwow draws crowds to Elmo

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ELMO — At least quadrupling the population of Elmo, the Standing Arrow Powwow drew dancers and drummers from all over the west and even some from the midwest. The powwow is traditionally the third weekend in July.

This year’s head man dancer and head woman dancer were Guy Fox of Spokane, Wash. and Clara Charlie of St. Ignatius. 

Clara is Ho-Chunk and Salish, and Guy is Gros Ventre. 

“Our job is to get out there,” Guy said, “and get everybody dancing,” Clara added. 

It’s a new thing for Guy, who said he usually stays in camp until it’s his turn to dance. 

A chicken dancer, most of the beadwork on Guy’s dance outfit was created by Beverly Large of Fort Washakie, Wyo. 

Guy said he won a prize at the Fort Washakie Powwow but received the wrong item, so Large hand beaded a replacement. She then “adopted” him as her son and made him some beaded cuffs and other items.

Clara made her own dress and beaded her own powwow dance outfits. Her leggings took about a year to bead. She competed in the women’s jingle dress special at Standing Arrow.

As the day progressed, the drums played and the dancers danced, and the Standing Arrow Powwow Committee worked together to make the powwow run smoothly.

Helping with that effort was the voice of the powwow, emcee Ruben Little Head of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.

With the assistance of the arena director, he called in dancers, announced the Veteran Warrior Society, introduced the queens and princesses from other powwows, honored the dignitaries and kept the drum rotation. 

In between official duties and with the help of the Standing Arrow Powwow committee, Little Head walked among the dancers and interviewed some of the champion dancers from other powwows.

Little Head became interested in emceeing by watching his grandfather Kenneth Beartusk, who was master of ceremonies for many Northern Cheyenne powwows.  

Little Head has emceed powwows across Montana and North America, including powwows in Post Falls, Idaho; Bishop, Calif.; Rapid City, S.D.; Winnepeg, Manitoba; the traditional powwow in Preston, British Columbia; Red Earth Powwow, Oklahoma City; Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation; Saskatoon; and the Gathering of Nations in New Mexico. 

Little Head travels to about 28 powwows per year from his eastern Montana home in Happy Flats. He just moved home in October from Kansas, where the Little Head family had lived for 15 years. While there, Little Head earned his masters degree in education from Haskell Indian Nations University. 

With wife Matilda, the Little Heads have three children: Sonny, almost 15; Ruben, Jr., 11; and Haven, 16 months. Usually the family attends powwows together, but the Big Sky State Games were held this weekend and “the boys wanted to play ball,” Little Head said. 

When he is not emceeing, Little Head is a motivational speaker and leads workshops on bullying and leadership throughout Indian communities. He believes in education as well as the power of prayer. 

“The guidance of the Native American Church and (its traditions) have given me stability, sobered me up and helped me,” Little Head said. “The Creator has given me a path and is steering me down it.” 

Gesturing towards the circular dance floor and circle of drums — surrounded by a ring of audience members — Little Head observed the power of community sharing both blessings and burdens. Maybe someone has lost a loved one or is struggling, he added. 

“It’s okay to come (to the powwow) to laugh, to sing and to dance,” Little Head said. “There is a lot of healing here.”

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