Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The singers began to beat their drums and raise their voices. Slowly, people began to filter in from the outside of the circle, joining hands. White palms gripped darker ones in the widening chain, and their owners moved in unison.
A Friendship Dance had begun.
On Saturday evening, members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation invited their guests to join in at a small powwow. The tribe embraced visitors from Havre and elsewhere with song and dance, the piercing voices of the singers and the dancers' colors providing a sensory feast - an appropriate dessert to a generous meal of succulent buffalo, more than 300 pounds of which had been roasted in an underground oven.
The powwow was only part of a weekend-long celebration and sharing of local tribal culture at the reservation. The National Park Service's Lewis and Clark bicentennial Corps of Discovery II traveling exhibition, including its Tent of Many Voices, educated visitors of all backgrounds about tribal history, culture, food, music, dance, language and humor. The events, held at the Sybil Sangrey Colliflower Memorial Arena near Box Elder, end today at 6 p.m.
Park Service American Indian liaison Darrell Martin, who is from Fort Belknap, said the event offered a chance for people from the area to learn about their neighbors.
"A lot of people read a history story in a book and they never see the Native American side of it," he said. "The Indians have been there behind the sagebrush for thousands of years. This is an opportunity to look behind the sagebrush. This is an opportunity for tribes to tell their own story. This is a chance for people to realize what it's like to be a Native American. Native Americans are kind, generous people. They are truly sincere, and they are always happy to tell their stories."
Havreites Kelly Toldness and her mother, Kelly Stewart, said Sunday that they learned a great deal from their visit to Rocky Boy. They spent part of their visit speaking with elder Videl Stump in his tepee, where he educated them about the meaning behind different traditional items inside. They said they learned that tepees always have doors facing the east, allowing their occupants to greet the sun each morning. The nine pegs that bind the tepee together represent the nine months of pregnancy.
"It's very interesting," Toldness said. "I liked learning their culture, and I think it's great that they're passing this on to their children and keeping these traditions alive. This is their heritage."
Stewart said more should be taught about Indian culture in schools.
"We never had any Indian history in school," she said. "We have so many Indian reservations here. It's a good culture to know about. It would teach respect for that culture and would be beneficial for relationships."
Tribal elder Pat Chief Stick said the traditions and ceremonies of today's Chippewa Cree people are the same as those of the past. The stories, art, music and oral history are passed down to each succeeding generation, he said.
"We teach (children) songs, we teach them the ways God put us on this earth," Chief Stick said.
He was one of the presenters during the weekend, offering stories about the history of his people from the beginning of time, he said. When the Maker created Cree people, he gave them a pipe and sweetgrass, Chief Stick said.
"He told them, 'This is what you're going to use ... to communicate with me, and if you breath it from your heart, it will grant your wishes,'" Chief Stick said. "That was the greatest blessing ever given to an Indian."
Chief Stick recalled the story of Chief Rocky Boy, a leader who moved his people from Canada to the United States when the Canadian government didn't keep its promises. Rocky Boy was instrumental in talking to the U.S. government, which eventually created Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation by executive order in 1916. For a long time, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ran the government and the schools on the reservation. About 15 years ago, the Chippewa Cree were one of the first tribal peoples to be granted self-governance.
Elder Henry Day Child showed a video that had been made from 8mm film. The black-and-white images dated from about 1935, he said, and show past generations working, going to school and participating in ceremonies at Rocky Boy.
"A lot has changed," Day Child said. "(The government) wanted us to assimilate."
He said members of his parents' generation were beaten or had their mouths washed out with soap whenever they spoke the Cree language. Those efforts were not enough to kill the language, however. Day Child is one of 22 certified Cree language instructors who participated in a Cree Language institute held over the weekend in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark events. Day Child said his work and that of others is not yet finished.
"There's a need for more to be done," he said. "I don't think the students are that interested in the language. And the spirituality behind the language is the one that's going to be difficult for the students to learn."
Lloyd Top Sky gave a presentation on a different language - a sign language that was developed among the Plains Indians and used for communication in times where speaking wasn't possible or when members of two tribes with different languages met.
On hunts for buffalo, men would use the signs to coordinate their movements in order to separate animals from the herd.
"You had to be in total control of the situation," Top Sky said. "You had to have complete silence."
Top Sky said the sign language, in which gestures represent words instead of individual letters, is "native in thought" and can help people learn languages like Cree.
"I think there's a genuine interest in bringing it back," he said.
After today, the Tent of Many Voices will pack up and move on to Great Falls, where all 11 Montana tribes will be represented, Martin said.
Daryl Shortman, who played songs Saturday on his Native American flute, said the event offered a unique opportunity for both tribal and non-native people. Shortman, a White Clay from Fort Belknap, will continue traveling with the exhibition, playing a variety of songs on his flutes, which are made from walnut, basswood and cedar.
"It's really awesome that the Native American people get out and share with (non-natives)," he said.