Mark Trahant in Native Currents. Discussion »
Editor's Note: First published by Mark Trahant back in 2003 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, this is the story of the Red Bottom Powwow on the occasion of the 100th anniversary celebration. Reprinted here with permission of the Mark Trahant.
FRAZER, MONTANA Life in the 21st century is frenetic. We rush to our next appointment, zoom through traffic when passable and consume fast food. We work, shop and pay bills. We flip channels, leave baseball games early and wonder where the day went.
Sometimes we get so busy that we forget that ceremony is part of life, too. We forget that it's stories, often those from our own family, that binds the generations.
Over 100 Years Celebrating Family
My great-grandparents were Assiniboines who lived near where the Milk River meets the Missouri River in northeastern Montana. This story starts during a very difficult era. The Fort Peck Indian Reservation was less than 25 years old, a creation of a government policy trying to "settle" the West.
But for the Assiniboine and Sioux people living on the reservation, that notion of settlement meant adjusting to a radically different way of life. The buffalo were gone from the Great Plains but still a memory to many who had once hunted. Disease and starvation were a constant of reservation life.
Harsh environment or not, my great-grandparents, Walter Sr. and Josephine Butch Clark, had 11 children who were told that they could prosper even in this new world. They were told, over and over, that education was the only way to succeed. They were molded to work hard and believe in themselves. Still, life was tough, the family had lost two children and a third, Walter Jr., was gravely ill.
It was then that my great-grandfather, who was known as Chabaza or Stockade, made a vow to the Creator. Make my son well, he prayed, and he would celebrate life through ceremony. He promised a celebration - a feast, dance and give-away - for all who could come. The prayers were answered. The young boy was restored to health.
So my great-grandfather invited people to his celebration and folks came from all over the region and Canada.
My great-grandparents fed people, butchering cows as people arrived. They provided shelter, tents or teepees for those who did not bring their own. And they gave away amazing things: blankets, clothes and horses.
My grandmother used to tell me this story. After she'd talk about giving away horses, she'd pause. In those days, she used to say, giving away a horse was like giving away a truck or a car today.
Sometimes gifts were given to people who worked hard helping others. Or, they could have been given to those who really needed them for one reason or another. Or the gifts could go to people who my great-grandparents did not even know.
Nowadays when people talk about Walter Clark, they talk of him as a wealthy man. But the judging of his wealth wasn't in the terms of a millionaire or what he had; he was wealthy because he gave so much away.
This was a measure of character. But it was also a challenge, incorporated through a story, that's been passed along to every descendant. Now, when we give away something, we honor our great-grandparents.
Last weekend, we again honored our ancestors. The Red Bottom Powwow - named for the Red Bottom Clan - had its 100th anniversary. The powwow has continued every year (except during World War II) organized by Clark family members and others in the community. Some do it because it's a community tradition, but others contribute because they are fulfilling their relative's vow.
1 | 2 next page »
posted June 13, 2012 7:59 am edt