Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Arlee Celebration welcomes dancers, spectators

Reporter | July 11, 2024 12:00 AM

The 124th annual Arlee Esyapqeyni, which means celebration in Salish, began its seven-day run on July 1 and provided six days of culture and powwow dancing. The powwow theme was “In Honor of Our Elders – Past and Present.”

Teepees dotted the campground around the dance pavilion, as did campers and tents.   

The grand entries for the celebration were so full of dancers the arena directors were busy asking participants to move closer together so everyone would fit. 

 War Dance Chief Stephen Small Salmon led the grand entries. Small Salmon remembers being 3 years old and putting on his very first War Dance regalia made by his grandfather, Alexander Beaverhead. Now, at 84, Small Salmon put on his regalia for the 2024 Arlee Celebration, and said he was honored to carry Mitch Small Salmon’s eagle feather and staff. 

Before the Thursday evening powwow began, Charlie Quequesah presented “Honoring the Ways of the Salish People.” He explained the scalp dance while volunteer dancers demonstrated the ancient dance to spectators.    

Head Man dancer was William Mestheth Jr., Salish. Naomi Wawaskones Plant, Anshinaabe, Salish and Kootenai, died in a car accident on June 11, 2024, and her memory was honored as Head Woman dancer.

Host drum was Northern Cree of Saddle Lake, Alberta, and the honorary local host drum was Yamncut. 

Royalty from other tribes and powwows were introduced after the grand entry, including local powwow royalty Miss Salish/Pend d’Oreille Aurora O’Neil and Little Miss Salish Pend d’Oreille Kameleigh Raeann Adams.

During the grand entries, the powwow dance floor was a swirl of color – beautiful beaded regalia, some new, some family pieces, representing hundreds of hours of skilled work; buckskin, trade cloth, and calico garments in all colors, all with matching moccasins and leggins; and rosette crowns, headbands, plumes, war bonnets, shawls, ermine tails, and all manner of accessories. Each person’s regalia is personal to him or her and represents his or her tribe.   

To keep the powwow moving and people dancing, two masters of ceremony were efficient and fun. They were Hal Eagletail, Tsuu T’ina Nation of Alberta, and Alec Bluff, Kalispel Tribe of Usk, Wash. 

Arena directors Loren Young Running Crane, Blackfeet, Shawn Decker, Salish, and Steffan Walks Over Ice, Crow, were moccasins on the dance floor as they directed traffic, answered questions, collected lost and found pieces of regalia, and communicated with the emcees. 

Over all the drums and dancing could be heard stick game songs; and the enticing smells of fry bread and chili wafted through the pavilion. Many vendors offered food, jewelry and clothing.

The number of dancers who were competing was 135, according to the last announcement on Saturday evening. And to keep those dancers busy, there was a big money drum contest. First place winner was Ho-Chunk Nation, who took home $15,000. 

Sunday was Esyapqeyni’s last day, and finals for many dance contests. Winners were announced, and some campers packed up to leave. “Home Sweet Home” was sung, the flags were retired, teepee poles were stacked, and good-byes said, as good  feelings lingered from the celebration. 

    Jingle dress contestants dance in the Grand Entry. (Berl Tiskus/Leader)
    Royalty from the Arlee Celebration and other powwows wait their turn for the grand entry. (Berl Tiskus/Leader)
    Two young ladies participate in the grand entry at the Arlee Celebration on Friday night. (Berl Tiskus/Leader)
    Following the older dancers, a boy dances in a patch of sunshine during the grand entry at Esyapqeyni, the Arlee Celebration,on Friday night. (Berl Tiskus/Leader)