By Pete Soyer
A table full of powwow shirts slowly depletes as people come in and buy them. "I came, I sang, I danced," the shirts read.
Through the open windows of the announcers' booth, the grand entry of Rocky Boy's 37th Annual Pow-Wow, sponsored by the Chippewa Cree Business Committee, begins with singing, drumming and dancing. The singers' voices are so powerful they almost drown out the voice of Kenna Standing Rock, a member of the Pow-wow Committee.
Standing Rock, 21, of Rocky Boy is sitting behind the piles of T-shirts, calm in the midst of all the activity around her.
She has been going to powwows all her life, she said. Last year she was selected to be the treasurer of the committee, and soon she will be picking someone to replace her.
The members of the committee change every year, she said. Current members choose who will fill the position for the next year. She said the membership changes every year to keep new people cycling through the committee.
The committee has been planning this powwow since January. A new staff was chosen, prize money was gathered from the Business Committee and from sponsors, and notices are sent out for participants. The announcers are brought in from all over the United States and Canada. The masters of ceremonies were Wallace Coffee from Oklahoma and Eric Tootoosis from Poundmaker, Saskatchewan. Delbert Wapass, the arena director, came from Thunderbird, Saskatchewan.
The announcers for the powwow are selected by how well known they are and their speaking ability.
The host drums for this year's powwow came from Iowa and Oklahoma. The committee looks for host drums based on their singing style and the quality of their singing.
The announcers on Saturday moved gracefully between asking kids to pick up trash in the arena to poking fun at Monica Lewinsky to thanking the Great Power Above for the country given to everyone.
Standing Rock said a lot of organizing goes into the powwow. Along with finding host drums, announcers, a powwow staff and getting the singers and drummers signed up, the committee finds food vendors to serve the throngs of people coming and going. Fry bread, Indian tacos, snow cones, cotton candy and fresh lemonade are just some of the staples.
The organizing doesn't stop when the powwow starts. Standing Rock said everyone is "trying to do three things at once."
"It gets frustrating at times. It's a lot of hard work, but it's fun overall."
Standing Rock has been traveling to different powwows all summer. She said she will travel to the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho for her next powwow.
Standing Rock's favorite part of all the powwows she has gone to is the dancing. Men's grass particularly is her favorite style to watch, she said.
Dancing competitions were held through the entire powwow, along with drumming and singing competitions. The winners were announced Sunday.
A constant drizzle of rain Saturday snuck through the arbor circling the arena as more than 200 dancers lined up behind the eagle feather and four flag bearers at the start of the grand entry. The U.S., Canadian, Montana and Chippewa Cree flags hung side by side.
A drum circle began and a man bearing the eagle feather walked into the arena, followed by all the dancers.
Outfits of all colors flashed as the line moved. Bells rang out from dancers' clothes and shoes. Children in the stands imitated the dancers, stomping on beat. An old man in cowboy boots watched and danced as well.
"We have a relationship with this earth, this sky," the master of ceremonies said into the microphone as another drum circle began a new song.
The dancers formed a circle around the inside of the arena with the flags and the eagle feather in the middle. A young dancer behind the flags wore a headdress that looked as if it captured the sun. A dancer farther behind him had the colors of an ocean storm in his headdress.
Rings of feathers bounced as the drumming and singing flowed through the dancers' bodies. Every move, every step was with the beat of the drum.
When everyone was in the arena, another drum circle played the flag song and a prayer was said.