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Arlee Celebration Powwow retains cultural heritage

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ARLEE — With the 115th annual Arlee Celebration just around the corner, Chairman of the Celebration Committee Salisha Old Bull said an entire year of planning is about to come to fruition. 

“We spend the whole year preparing for the celebration, and everyone on the committee is a volunteer,” she said. “As for the celebration itself, ... we added a dance category this year and we’re hoping to get a lot more dancers.”

The new dance category, the Prairie Chicken, is a popular dance category Old Bull hopes will be a positive change to the celebration. 

In addition, the celebration will host its second-annual Powwow Trail 5K, 10K and walk in partnership with Tribal Health’s diabetes program and the Arlee girls volleyball team. 

“It’s to promote healthiness,” Parade Coordinator June Rae McDonald said. “We want to have people come back, and not just because they’re powwowing, but because they’re happy and healthy. That’s the goal of it: healthy fun.”

Also in its second year at the celebration is the Evening Ride Parade at 8 p.m. on the Fourth of July, “to kind of wind down the day and make sure that we have enough time to do it right,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the Evening Ride Parade was traditionally about courting and having fun. The men would ride around camp on horseback as the women watched and, when a single girl found a man she liked, she would step on the man’s foot and get on his horse. 

“It was mainly for the single ladies for them to show that they like that gentleman,” McDonald said. “But the married ladies could also do it to tease their husbands, just having fun. I wish we had done it a lot more growing up, to tell you the truth.

“It’s really a beautiful thing to watch. I guess you can imagine back in the day what it was for, and now it’s just really beautiful to watch with the sunset and the shadows and the contrast ... it’s just really cool.” 

On the Fourth of July, Old Bull said most of the dances which are specific to the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes will be performed in what Old Bull called, “Old Style Day.”

“We’ve been doing (old style day) for quite a long time since I’ve been on the committee. It’s just a day when we’re trying to promote our cultural heritage,” Old Bull said. “We just want to make sure that we encourage our people to continue to practice our cultural ways. We’re trying to show people that there’s still something significant about our tribe.”

Old Bull and McDonald both said that powwows are everywhere, and it’s easy for a celebration to become uniformed with other tribal dances and practices over time. Old Style Day is an effort to retain the cultural heritage that makes the Arlee Celebration unique. 

“The Powwow is sort of an inter-tribal phenomenon,” Old Bull said. “Dances that are specific to our tribe, they don’t happen very often. What we’re trying to do is keep those dances going so every year we take one day to reenact some of those things.”

And as beautiful as the celebration is, Old Bull said it doesn’t come cheap. Last year’s event cost around $104,000, with less than half coming from the CSKT. Committee members raised the rest through raffles, silent auctions and vendor spots and advertisements. 

This year, in an effort to raise additional funds, the committee is raffling off a 2007 Kawasaki Brute Force 650 4X4i V-twin four-wheeler. The four-wheeler has low miles and low hours and includes a tow package and Warn winch. Tickets are $10 and all funds raised will go toward competition dancing payouts and general operating funds. Those interested in purchasing tickets are encouraged to call June Rae

McDonald at (406) 890-5785, Salisha Old Bull at (406) 370-3634, Vi Trahan at (406) 546-3748, or Clara Charlo at (406) 531-3689.

The celebration committee is also asking local businesses and individuals interested in donating to the silent auction to send items to P.O. Box 4, St. Ignatius, Montana 59865. 

“Anything is welcome and anything helps,” McDonald said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into this. My family does this every year for nothing — no money, no reward. It’s just because it’s a part of our being and how we are raised, but it’s totally worth it. It keeps me grounded and it keeps me involved in Arlee. 

“I don’t need to be paid, I need to be down at the powwow grounds. That’s it.”

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