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Sweetgrass Society holds powwow for community


April 15, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Eagle Staff carrier Clinton Bird Hat is surrounded by dancers during the final Grand Entry of the Sweetgrass Society Powwow Saturday at the Armory Gymnasium in Havre. The Powwow is an annual tradition put on by Montana State University-Northern's Sweetgrass Society.

Traditional culture came together on the Montana State University-Northern campus Friday and Saturday when Northern's Sweetgrass Society held its annual powwow in the Armory Gymnasium.

Sweetgrass Society President Jonathan Nepoose said the event went well and he was glad to see people from different areas all come together to celebrate the event.

"It's important," he said. "I think it's (our) duty to keep it going."

He said that the powwow is a celebration of American Indian culture and is important because, in the past, powwows were fought against and many different tribes were unable to celebrate their cultures.

Devan Kicknosway, who danced at the Sweetgrass powwow, said powwows are great for the community because they introduce the culture to non-Native people and makes a younger generation aware of traditions that they may have not been able to be exposed to. The country has many issues surrounding Native American communities, he said, such as the growing issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and too often people are unaware of them.

"Native people have been stripped of everything and it is a way to try to keep (the culture) alive, to keep it going, to let people know we still exist," he said.

Nepoose said that the Sweetgrass Society begins planning for the powwow at the beginning of the school year and starts fundraising right after the previous year's powwow. He added that often the society leaves some funds from the previous year to help kickstart the next year's celebration.

Nepoose said that he is Chippewa Cree from Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, but the powwow is not only for local tribes.

"Everybody is from different areas around our region and coming to celebrate with one another," he said.

Senior Miss Sweetgrass Society Royalty Tanille Standing Rock, 14, said that she was enjoying the event and was enjoying the opportunity to meet new people.

"I enjoy being around everybody just the whole thing of it," she said.

Standing Rock said that she is an Old Style Jingle Dancer and learned from growing up around her family. She said her grandmother Harriet Standing Rock was a major influence for her, making her regalia and teaching her how to dance.

She added that she was excited about being the senior miss and getting the opportunity to travel on the powwow trail. She said that to be part of the royalty she had to apply and be selected by a committee and had to fundraise. Standing Rock said that she was able to raise $938 for the powwow.

"It's fun I get to meet new people everywhere," she said.

Nepoose said that about 20 members of the society have different assignments before and during the event, such as working security, organizing dancers and organizing fundraisers. It was his first year as president of the society, he said, after serving as vice president last year. He said he has been in the society for four years.

He said that his involvement over the years helped him get experience in organizing the powwow this year. Nepoose added that having the societies advisor, Erica McKeon-Hanson, available to help was a great resource to this year's success, as well.

He added that the powwow would have not been possible without the commitment of the club members and the community.

"Thank you to our supporters. We couldn't have done it without them," he said. "Thank you to our club members for coming and putting it together."

Sweetgrass Society Inter Organizational Council Representative John Healy said that he was working as security at the event, making sure people were not doing something they weren't supposed to.

He added that he enjoys powwows and how it makes a strong community bond with people who may have never met each other before.

"How it brings everyone together, how you feel when you're out there, it feels pretty good," he said.

Healy said that he is a first-year member of the society but is enjoying it very much.

"I like it, they help me out a lot and I do my best to help them a lot," he said.

He said that he moved to Havre from Fort Belknap to enroll at Northern after he graduated from Aaniiih Nakoda College. The Sweetgrass Society helped him find an apartment, he said.

Healy added that his mother, father and aunt have also been members of the Sweetgrass Society, and he was happy to follow.

He said he also wanted to join because be wanted to get to know more people around campus.

"It's a really good club," Healy said. "People think that it's just for Natives, but it's not. Anybody can come and join. I really like being a part of it."

Kicknosway said that he is originally from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and is a Mohawk Ojibway. He said he first started participating in powwows when he was 19 years old after he quit drinking and taught himself how to make regalia and his dancing techniques.

He added that he is a personal trainer and nutritionist and he can tie his culture into his profession.

Some of the regalia he makes in birch bark quilled, where he has to peel the bark of a tree and create a design, which can take years to make, he said. He added that it takes patience. He also makes the regalia for his family, his kids having the opportunity to wear whatever regalia and dance however they choose.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

The Montana Cree drum circle plays a song during the annual Sweetgrass Society Powwow Saturday at the Armory Gymnasium in Havre.

He and his wife live at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and have traveled all over the country and parts of Canada for powwow events. He said that his culture is part of who he is and is a part of his and his family's lives.

"A big part of this for me is family," he said. "It keeps us all tied"

Nepoose said that this year was also special to him because Friday at the powwow he and his girlfriend, Mia LameBull, got engaged. He said that they were doing a private owl dance and afterward he proposed.

LameBull said that the proposal came as a surprise to her.

Nepoose added that it was a great experience and he was happy to have been able to share it with the community.

"It was pretty cool," he said.


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