By Tim Eberly
Bill Lamere entered the horse race on Wednesday not just to participate in the Native American Week activities on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Lamere had his eye on the prize money, that is that waited for him if he finished first in the 3/8-mile race.
The oldest of 14 riders, the 48-year-old Lamere hoped the $200 pot would sponsor his trip this weekend to the Montana Team Roping Finals in Billings.
No such luck. Lamere crossed somewhere in the middle of the pack. But even though he left the racing strip without a crisp wad of $20 bills stuffed in his pocket, he departed with a smile on his face the boiled-down objective of Rocky Boy's weeklong festival activities.
"Oh, I had a good time, all right," Lamere said. "I just wanted to go out there and try it. Just seeing if I could keep up with the kids. I needed that money to go rope. First horse race I was ever in."
To Lamere's credit, nearly all the competitors finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, just a nose or two behind the victor, Leon Sutherland.
"They were neck and neck all the way," said John Chance Houle, the director of Social Services at Rocky Boy. "It looked like the event of the week. We had both sides of the roadway lined up (with spectators)."
The event of the week, maybe, but certainly not the only event. Jump-started on Monday at Rocky Boy High with a community breakfast, the annual festival crammed activities into the itinerary from sunrise to sunset all week, and climaxed on Thursday with an exhibition powwow and round dance at Rocky Boy High. It amounts to 27 events in all, at an estimated production cost of $10,000.
"To me, it's just the time of year when all employees and community members can get together and have fun," said Mario Patacsil, the coordinator of the week's activities. "It's about getting to see people you hardly get to know any other time. It gives the people of the community the chance to get together on an equal basis."
In contrast from years past, Rocky Boy officials decided the various programs that sponsor the events, like the Natural Resources Department and the Health Board, would foot their own bills this time. A decent chunk of change was left over from the 2000 festival, Patacsil said, which was subsidized mostly by Havre businesses, but the majority of this year's finances were acquired from fund-raisers. Last year, Rocky Boy paid for guest speakers to appear during the week, but the budget was tighter this week, allowing only for homespun fun.
"It was a tough situation because we usually depend on the tribe (and sponsors) for help but this time we didn't and left it up to each program to raise money," Patacsil said.
With the added responsibility, each program was then permitted to choose the event it wanted to showcase. Stone Child College provided, among other things, a frybread cooking contest and a two-person, 18-hole golf tournament. The fire hose lay contest and turkey shoot were products of the Natural Resources Department.
"We just wanted to have some fun," Patacsil said, "so we let each of the programs decide what events they wanted to hold."
The men-only frybread contest was an opportunity for the sons and fathers of the community to show their mettle in the cooking arena. Winner Dave One Spot and his 19 competitors had to mix the ingredients and cook the traditional Native American bread in front of a crowd at Stone Child College. The event's organizers invited approximately 50 Rocky Boy residents to taste the bread and vote for the best. Ultimately, One Spot was crowned the Frybread King.
"I tasted the Frybread King's and his was really good," said Melody Henry, one of the college's 10 events coordinators. "He had some raisins in it. Some of them just knew what they were doing."
Said Rocky Boy resident Earl Arkinson: "It's just like one of those cooking shows. They mix their dough and cook their frybread in boiling grease."
Jodi Lamere placed second in Wednesday's double elimination horseshoe-throwing contest, held at the community baseball field. She and her partner, Junior Healy, split their $100 winnings. Though Lamere and Healy lost by a ringer, she said, "it was a good stress reliever. It's all you can concentrate on."
But, she said, "That sun tuckers you out when you're out there all day." Either that or the fact that Lamere and four other friends Crystal Denny, Virgil Buffalo, Duane Raining Bird and Warren Small were fatigued from winning the previous day's tug-of-war contest under the team name PD Pounders.
Described by Arkinson as a religious ceremony, an event on Monday evening placed up to 24 people in the sweat lodge at the Chemical Dependency Center. Afterward, the group huddled around a talking circle and recited traditional Cree prayers.
"It's good for healing," Arkinson said. "It's pretty well packed depending on how many people you have in there."
Though so close in proximity and culture, Rocky Boy and Box Elder residents rarely mesh even during annual festivals, Patacsil said. But this week, school buses shipped students back and forth on the 13-mile jaunt between towns to mingle for the activities.
"Box Elder has a tendency to shy away from us but this time they went out of their way to come out and join our activities," Patacsil said. "We're more culturally inclined since we're here on the reservation. So they're making it a point of becoming more involved."