Milk River Indian Days brings healing to Fort Belknap


Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Desirae Desnomie braids the hair of her daughter, Aiyana Burnstick, 13, before the Grand Entry of Milk River Indian Days Powwow Sunday at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

The Milk River Indian Days powwow at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation wrapped up Sunday and saw hundreds in attendance from around the area all sharing in the celebration. In light of a number of recent tragedies on the reservation, the community banded together in prayer, mourning and healing and held a ceremony that the tribe has not held in nearly a century.

"It's not a matter of being good to one another, it's a matter of loving one another through good and bad. Share the tears of healing, share a smile, a handshake and a hug," Fort Belknap community leader Gerald Stiffarm said. "We've healed together, we need to fight that black dog spirit. All nations, all people, it doesn't matter what color, what direction you come from, there is only one people and one creator."

Stiffarm said that at the powwow people pray through dance, singing and drumming, healing one another in their time of need. He added that with the power of the powwow, life is brought back to the community.

"It was given back to us, the creator gave it back," he said.

He added that the tragedies they face on the reservation are the same tragedies that many other communities deal with. Mourning leads to healing, though, and Stiffarm said the powwow gave people of all nations a chance to come together and heal.

Sunday at the powwow, Stiffarm also led in a traditional chieftainship ceremony, bestowing Bruce Plummer, a Christian pastor of Fort Belknap, with a warrior bonnet and chieftainship. Stiffarm said the last chieftainship ceremony he knew of occured in 1934. His father had taught him the traditional ceremony and he felt it was an honor to be able to witness and take part in the event. The ceremony was a 4-4-4-4 ceremony, with four men who have chieftainship wearing the warrior bonnet, four veterans to carry the Eagle Staff, four men to be spiritual witnesses and four life-givers - who were four grandmothers - to witness the ceremony.

Stiffarm said Plummer's late mother, Sissy Hopkins, came to him in a dream and he promised her to give her son the honor of chieftainship. He then turned to the recognized traditional leaders of the tribe and sought their approval and support.

"It's the healing between Christianity and traditional way of prayer," Stiffarm said. "I'm 70 years old and this is the first time I've seen it in my life."

This year's powwow also was the first year Hays-Lodge Pole High School sophomore Mikkal Rider held the position of Whip Man.

Rider said that after last year the previous Whip Man selected him for the position. The Whip Man's duty is to, during the grand entry, carry a whip around the powwow grounds and encourage spectators to get involved in the ceremony.

He added that it was great being involved and he was surprised and honored to be given such an important role in the grand entry.

"It keeps our culture alive," he said, adding that the powwow is a celebration of life and he believes it is important to keep traditions going so they don't die out.

Rider said he became involved in dancing at the powwow because of his father, Tony Rider. He said his father is a big influence on his life and that this year was also the first year he was dancing traditional, changing from grass dancing, because he took up his father's regalia.

"It's great," he said, adding that he was proud to be able to wear his father's regalia.

He also enjoys spending time with his father and singing with him at the different powwows in the area, he said.

Jaynah Gopher, a traditional dancer, and her boyfriend Tyler Lamere of Rocky Boy were also at the event throughout the weekend.

Lamere said he doesn't dance, but he enjoys seeing Gopher dance and enjoys their time spent together at the different events.

Gopher added that she attends different powwows across the country. She said her aunt has spent the past year making her regalia and appreciates the work she put into it.

Lamere said powwows are an important part of the Native American culture and it's important the practice is continued.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry


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