WYOLA, MONTANA — A few hundred people gathered last Friday at the Wyola Public School to celebrate the culmination of Native American Week. Infants and septuagenarians — nearly all of whom are members of the Crow Tribe — celebrated culture and tradition together.
Friday served as the culmination of five days’ worth of activities for the 105 students at the K-8 school. The previous four days included beading, music and arts and crafts. Friday included a morning parade, powwow and communal meal.
The week is meant to “celebrate and recogn[ize] that we are still Native Americans and we still can sing and dance,” said Levi Yellowmule, the school’s dean of students and athletic director. “We are fortunate and glad that we can still celebrate these things at a school.”
A morning parade began Friday’s festivities, with students from all grades sitting on flatbed trucks. The parade chief and princess of each grade was determined based on who had the best attendance. Prizes were later awarded for best float, with third grade taking home first place, K-2 finishing runner-up and fourth grade in third place.
Wyola Public School superintendent Christy Wright said the parade, an important part of Crow culture, almost didn’t happen because of the cold, snowy weather that rolled through the area last week. However, the sky cleared up by Friday mid-morning.
“The big thing for the parade for the Crow people is they’re nomadic, so this is what they did when they’d pack up their camp and move to the next place,” Wright said.
“That’s why parades are such a big part of their culture.”
The powwow was initially scheduled to take place outside as well but was moved indoors to the school gymnasium because of Mother Nature. The grand entrance included all of the school’s students and many other members of the Crow Tribe.
Drummers from Little Big Horn College provided the music and took part in the celebration as well. Awna Bad Bear, a senior at Hardin High School, attended because she wanted to pass on the Crow legacy and tradition to younger students.
Truman “Boogie” Jefferson served as the master of ceremonies. He also emceed the Sheridan WYO Rodeo powwow at the Sheridan Inn this year. During the ceremony Jefferson emphasized the communal pride everyone had for the students.
Near the end of the ceremony, Wright was adopted into the Crow Tribe for her passionate care and efforts toward education and the local community. Her Native American name, Basaaneeitchish, roughly translates to English as “good leader.”
The celebration lasted about two hours and was followed by a buffalo feed. The meal also included ribs, macaroni, breads and cranberry sauce.
Yellowmule said the school has celebrated Native American Week for many decades and plans to continue in the future. He said it is especially important for students to keep the culture and tradition alive.
“We want the children to understand that they are Native Americans,” Yellowmule said. “Most children today in this generation do not speak the language. Most of them do not understand the traditional or cultural ways anymore, so we try to bring them back.”
That is also done through cultural and historical teachings. Janice Wilson, the school’s Crow studies teacher, informs students about Native American history, storytelling, music and dance and helps them learn Apsaalooke, the Crow language.
Yellowmule said the school aims to combine Western ideas while still holding onto its Native American roots.
“Our goal here is to keep the tradition and the culture alive and intertwine it with the Western European education,” Yellowmule said. “Intertwine the [positives] from both cultures. We want to teach that to the children.”
There were several different celebrations during the powwow, including multiple intertribal dances, a dancing exhibition by a few students and a women’s dance.
“Come on out and tell Mother Earth that you are alive,” Jefferson said during one of the intertribal dances.
Despite the adverse weather circumstances, that is exactly what several hundred people did last Friday.