Fort Belknap continues half-a-century tradition with Mid-Winter Fair


February 10, 2020

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

A pie eating contest competitor grimaces while trying to swallow Friday at the Mid-Winter Fair on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Competitors were only allowed to use their mouth to consume the pie.

For the Fort Belknap community, the Mid-Winter Fair is a long-standing tradition, spanning more than five decades.

"It's tradition," event volunteer Robert Fox said Friday during the Fiddle and Jig event.

He added that he has been volunteering at the Mid-Winter Fair for the past 25 years, helping in a variety of ways and helping organize the event. He said that the event started because the community needed something during the winter that people could attend.

During the winter time, especially in the early and mid 1900s, people would get cabin fever, and the community needed something that would get people out and a way to get people in the community together. The Mid-Winter Fair was a good way to get people together and showcase what makes Fort Belknap Indian Community special, such as traditional regalia, special dances and friendships, he added.

Even during the harshest weather, people would still come together from all across the community to celebrate with one another, Fox said. He added that this year was also a very special year with the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians recently being federally recognized as a tribe by the federal government after a more than 100 year fight. Many people living on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are either Little Shell members or related to someone of that tribe, he said, and the Mid-Winter Fair this year was a good way to celebrate the victory.

He added that the weather this year was also really good for the fair and the turnout from the community was stronger than it has been in the past couple of years.

Attendance at the event Friday was also very strong because a number of schools in the area including Harlem High School, Hays-Lodge Pole and a few of the preschools in the area also attended the event, Fox said. Friday, the Mid-Winter Fair had a number of events for the children in the community to enjoy such as a pie-eating contest and a cook-off.

He added that he also wanted to thank the different agencies and Aaniiih Nakoda College students who volunteered at the event.

He said that the community members have experienced a large number of deaths recently and had conflicting events with funerals, services and remembrances. The tribal agencies and the council worked hard to make sure everyone was properly accommodated and made sure every event which was planned for the fair went smoothly.

Fox added that it was great to see the younger generation get involved, especially those who volunteered to help organize the event. It is passing on the tradition and assuring the Mid-Winter Fair will be something that will be continued in the community.

He said he also wanted to thank the Montana State University Fort Belknap Extension Office which helped in organizing the event and held a number of workshops and activities for producers in the area during the Mid-Winter Fair.

"Today it was really a blessing to see all of the young kids," he said.

His favorite event this year, he said, was the youth cook-off, where children in the community were given three or four ingredients which they had to make into a meal. He added that it is an important skill for the youth and something they could feel they were able to accomplish. 

It is nice to see the youth get involved and excited about the event, he said, adding that it is a good feeling to know that the Mid-Winter Fair is something that will be continued in the future.

This year the Mid-Winter Fair also included a special seminar with community member Donovan Archambault, who spoke to the children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse, he said.

Carol A. Doney said that she has been coming to the fair every year since it first started in the late 1960s. She said she remembers coming to the event when she was a young woman and, although the event has gotten smaller over the years, it is nice to see it is something the community has continued.

There used to be not a lot to do during the winter time, she said. People, because of advancements in technology and advancements in the community, now have more options.

Doney said that she enjoys coming to the event, especially because of the fiddle and jig.

"It was the music I grew up with," she said. 

She added that it also brings back memories of her late husband and of when she was raising her children. She said that she, her husband and their children all played music, which was something that was a big part of their family. She said that she has taught one of her sons to play the guitar as well as some of the other children in the community, who as adults are still actively playing or singing.

Music is something that was always very special to her, she said. She added that when she was 14 years old, her brother, who came back from South Dakota, gave her a guitar and sparked her love for music.

The Mid-Winter Fair is something that is important for the youth in the community to have because it is a drug-and-alcohol-free environment and something they can do to celebrate their culture, Doney said.

"It's just a good thing for them," she said. "It's very important for kids ... being involved in music is what we can offer them as parents and grandparents."

She added that every year at the fair people talk and that interact with people they don't normally talk or interact with and brings the community closer together.

"I just think it's good for everybody to have somewhere to go, be around each other and visit with each other," Doney said.


Look for more about the fiddle and jig event in Hi-Line Living in Friday's edition of The Havre Daily News.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

A booth with history of Native Americans sits on display Friday at the Mid-Winter Fair on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.


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