HELENA – On Saturday afternoon, the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall was filled with people celebrating American Indian culture, at the annual Last Chance Community Pow Wow.
This year, the pow wow features more than 100 registered dancers and 12 drum groups, from tribes around Montana and beyond.
“We all have our own ways,” said Cary Youpee, one of the event’s organizers. “So, with a diverse community behind our pow wow, we’re able to experience the difference in each other and respect that difference.”
The pow wow is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Youpee was among the group that started the event in 1998.
“There wasn’t enough events to promote Indian culture,” he said. “The community wanted more.”
The slogan for this year’s event is “Honor the Children.”
“We like to honor our leaders of the future – honoring the children because they’re the ones who’re going to be leading us soon,” said Youpee. “If we can promote them and give them different responsibilities, they can jump in and the pow wow will continue.”
One of the young people taking part this year is Chelsea Cox, a senior at Capital High School. She was selected as the pow wow’s lead girl dancer.
Cox, part of the Anishinaabe people, said she started taking up traditional dancing several years ago, learning from her aunt and cousins.
“It doesn’t have any, ‘You can’t do it because you’re a certain thing,’” she said. “You can do it if you just want to do it, and you want to learn the whole stories behind it all and learn all the teachings and take it seriously.”
The Last Chance Community Pow Wow is held every year in conjunction with Montana’s American Indian Heritage Day, which is the last Friday in September. Youpee said many schools in the state have special programs teaching Indian culture around that time, so it’s a good time to give students a chance to learn about it firsthand.
Those at the pow wow said they’d encourage anyone to visit for themselves.
“It’s a really fun place to come if you want to learn about the culture,” said Cox.
“It’s a time to visit and relax and get out of the race for a while,” Youpee said.
The pow wow will conclude on Sunday, with a session from 1 to 5 p.m.