July 3, 2007

109th annual Arlee Celebration begins in Montana today


AUTHOR: KIM BRIGGEMAN of the Missoulian

WHAT: 109th Annual Arlee Celebration Pow Wow

WHEN: July 3-9

WHERE:Arlee Powwow Grounds, Arlee, Montana


PUBLIC: The Public is welcome

CAMERAS ALLOWED: Yes, except for a few very sacred dances where they are prohibited. These instances will be announced.

SPECIAL RULES: No alcohol, drugs, motorcycles or unleashed dogs are allowed on the grounds.


Tuesday, July 3 – Campers Day, Memorial at 7 p.m.

Wednesday – Snake Dance, 2 p.m.; Veterans Memorial

Thursday – Grand entry, 7 p.m.

Friday – Grand entries, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.; dancing competition starts in evening

Saturday – Grand entries, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sunday – Grand entry, 1 p.m.

Monday – Celebration ends at 8 a.m.

Sometime after the dancing starts at the 109th annual Arlee Celebration this week, an eagle feather will fall. It’s a special moment each year.

“When the first eagle feather drops during the powwow, we do a lost article dance,” said Troy Arlee, arena director at the Arlee event. “For that one and some other dances, we ask people not to record or take pictures.

“Those songs are real old and sacred, and we don’t want some of them getting out.”

Arlee, a student at Salish Kootenai College, is the youngest son of Johnny Arlee, a spiritual and cultural leader of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and descendant of Chief Arlee, the last war chief of the Salish.

When subsequent eagle feathers fall during the week, he explained, they are picked up and blessed by Octave Finley, war dance chief.

The Arlee Celebration, held each year during the week of the Fourth of July, starts Tuesday at the Arlee Powwow Grounds and wraps up at 8 a.m. next Monday. It includes five full days of traditional, grass, fancy and jingle dancing for men, women and children.

More than $50,000 of prize money will be awarded to those who choose to dance competitively starting Friday night. Winners in the adult and senior categories will receive $1,000 each. Another $10,000 will be divided among the winners of the drum groups.

The Arlee powwow is the signature event each year for Montana’s Salish and their close relatives, the Pend d’Oreille. Kootenai Indians host their own powwow at Elmo on July 20-22. Both include tribes from throughout the Northwest.

Arlee’s is among those powwows that don’t charge an entry fee to dance. Prize money comes from fundraisers and the tribal council. It’s significantly more than a year ago, Troy Arlee said, because “it’s also based on gas prices.”

While there’s no telling when the lost article dance will occur, it’s certain the snake dance starts up at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The dance is performed only on the Fourth of July.

“The reason we dance in the snake way is when we’d have the soldiers coming back from a raid, they wouldn’t just come in the camp in a straight line. They’d weave back and forth and look like a snake,” Troy Arlee said.

Thursday’s slate includes some traditional Indian games during the day. New this year is one called shinny, a game like field hockey but played with sticks and a buckskin bag the size of a baseball.

The celebration honors Mary “Doly” Linsebigler and Harriet Whitworth, tribal elders who’ve attended and helped out at the powwow for years.

Once again the Head Woman of the celebration is Oshanee Kenmille, 91, a master teacher of hide tanning.

The outgoing Miss Salish-Pend d’Oreille is Sarah Finley. Shanae TwoTeeth was named Little Miss Salish-Pend d’Oreille last year, but that title has been discontinued. It will be replaced with an altered age limit for the Miss Salish competition and a new category for boys called Young Salish Warriors. Both awards are for youth ages 12-17.

Visitors can also see and perhaps play the mesmerizing and almost continuous stick games. There’s a tournament for youth 17 and under. Someone will be named most valuable lead singer, and there’s a hand drum singing contest.

As always, food booths and displays of Indian arts and crafts will fill the grounds. There’ll be no gaming machines on the grounds, but blackjack and Texas Hold ‘Em will be played. The tribe will also provide a shuttle service from the grounds to the new, tribally owned Grey Wolf Peak Casino at the former Joe’s Smoke Ring on Evaro Hill.


This article first appeared in the Missoulian Newspaper. Log on to for a complete schedule and information.

Editor’s Note: The Arlee Celebration kicks off the Montana “High Line” Pow Wow Circuit, where there is a northern pow wow ot two open to the public every weekend for more than a month. There is also another Pow Wow circuit in Montana known as the “Low Line.” See the full Montana pow wow schedule for July and August.

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