“From spring to summer, Native American families travel the country to celebrate and compete in competitions wearing intricate garments assembled across generations.” T. Irvine, The New York Times, July 30, 2022
NOTE: *Photographs and Text by Tailyr Irvine, July 30, 2022
Excerpt: Powwow Season in Full Bloom, By Tailyr Irvine, The New York Times, July 30, 2022
“Siliye Pete, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, wore an outfit that represented not only herself, but also her family and tribe. In addition to hair ties made by her stepmother, her otter skins were a gift from her father, her necklace was made by her mother and her bracelets came from her niece. She held a pink umbrella that matched her sparkling pink acrylic nails. The otter skins wrapped around her braids were tied with pink beaded hair ties, and a pink shawl was draped around her shoulders.
‘Everyone knows pink is my color,’ said Ms. Pete, a 24-year-old teacher. ‘My stepmom made the hair ties, and I made the rest of my outfit to match them. My nails were just a vibe for the summer.’
Ms. Pete was one of hundreds of dancers attending the 122nd annual Arlee Celebration powwow held over the Fourth of July weekend in Arlee, Mont., a town of fewer than 600 in the valley of the Flathead Reservation, which spans nearly 1.3 million acres of mountainous landscape and rolling hills.
The celebration — a mix of dance and drum competitions, traditional ceremonies and games — serves as a space for multiple tribes to gather to compete, eat traditional foods, meet new babies, and visit with relatives and old friends…Fancy dance outfits for both men and women are known for elaborate ribbon design and bright colors that swirl while they perform footwork with increasing speed, and acrobatic steps and motions based on a double step. Fancy dancers are judged on their knowledge of the dance style and how well they match the quick footwork with the ever-changing beat of the drum…For Rachel Arlee Bowers, 80, an elder whose family the town is named after, seeing the arena full of dancers was healing.
‘Dancing is prayer,’ Ms. Arlee Bowers said. ‘We pray and dance for the people who can’t be there. Those that are sick and those that want to dance but can’t. People like me.’
Sitting in a wheelchair in her traditional buckskin dress with her small Chihuahua, Tiny, on her lap, Ms. Arlee Bowers recalled when Native Americans were not allowed to practice their religion and were persecuted for conducting tribal ceremonies. It was not until 1978, when Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, that Native Americans were allowed to exercise their right to traditional ceremonies and celebrations.”