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By Alex Ross 

Hi-Line Living: Andrew Windy Boy Sr.

Preserving culture, tradition

 

August 12, 2016

Teresa Getten

Andrew Windy Boy Sr.

Dressed in their regalia, Andrew Windy Boy Sr. and his 9-year-old grandson Alexander sat with scores of others beneath the arbors of the powwow grounds as the sights and sounds of Rocky Boy's 52nd Annual Celebration swirled around them.

Windy Boy, 62, a Cree, is not just a spectator, he is a longtime grass dancer, drummer and singer. To him it is more than an activity or entertainment.

"It's, it's everything, almost," he said. "It's our life. It helps us. When we dance it clears our mind and we forget our troubles, whatever, for just that little while, and that spirit in there helps us."

Windy Boy dances at the Rocky Boy Celebration and at other powwows, as well. He said that he recently attended one in Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation and in the near future hopes to attend upcoming powwows of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes at the Fort Hall, Idaho, and Crow reservations.

He said that he tries to attend a nearby powwow every weekend.

Windy Boy said he attended his first such event in about 1954. Back then, he said, such celebrations were much smaller and usually took place after a Sundance Ceremony, a sacred ritual practiced by Cree and other North American Plains Indian tribes.

But such displays of native culture were not always welcome.

Windy Boy grew up in the final decades of the assimilation era, when both government policy and social pressures sought to absorb Natives into European-American culture, at the expense of their Native customs, language and cultural identity.

As a result, he found himself caught between two worlds, one embodied by his grandparents who taught him to dance and encouraged him to embrace his heritage, and another where non-Natives and Natives, including his uncle who was a tribal chairman, barred him from taking part in such practices.

He said that in that battle of wills, his grandparents usually prevailed.

When he was 9, Windy Boy was sent to live with foster parents and then to a Native American boarding school in North Dakota. He said during those early years of his life school staff often beat and tortured him for speaking Cree, the only language he knew.

"I wasn't allowed to come back, I was restricted to the boarding school," he said. "I wasn't allowed to get in contact with my family."

Windy Boy said he was only allowed to return to Rocky Boy once during his years in boarding school, to attend his mother's funeral.

He said those who sent him away from the reservation had little knowledge of their own cultural traditions, something Windy Boy said he finds sad and disappointing.

Windy Boy said when he returned to the reservation in the early '70s, he resumed his dancing.

When he enters the circle, Windy Boy moves with the energy of someone half his age.

He said that practice is crucial.

"You have to stay in shape, because like any sport, if you are not in shape and try it out, you are going to embarrass yourself," he said.

As he moves, he said, he reflects on the aches and sorrows of those he has met, such as a friend of his from Heart Butte whose house has burned down and is on his mind. He dances for him, too.

But most importantly, his love of dancing has been passed down the family line.

Teresa Getten

Andrew Windy Boy Sr.

His son Andrew Windy Boy Jr. said he remembers how dancing singing and drumming all played a major role in the household growing up.

"It was an everyday thing," Windy Boy Jr. said. "We always practiced singing the songs that we sing here. They tie into our ways a lot."

Windy Boy Jr. said dancing imparted on them not only an understanding of their cultural heritage but respect for both his ways and those of other people.

And at the powwow, Windy Boy Sr.'s 2-year-old grandson Trice Windy Boy was going to be initiated into the circle. A $1,000 Tiny Tots special dance for dancers six and under was to take place that day.

He said it strikes a chord in him whenever he sees any one of his 11 grandchildren dance.

"It touches my heart - it pleases the spirits way up there," Windy Boy said.

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