From July 18 to 24, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations welcomed a record 347 dancers and 29 drum groups from places as far as Florida, Texas and Alberta, Canada, during Fort Berthold’s Annual Mandaree Pow Wow in western North Dakota.
Pow wow President RoseAnn Johnson, a descendant of Hidatsa chiefs and a longtime dancer, said that the number of people who come to the event in Mandaree, which is the center of the Hidatsa community, grows each year. She said the pow wow began sometime in the mid 1950s.
The state’s recent oil boom has led to rapid development in the area, which in turn has prompted controversy. But it has helped the committee draw unprecedented sponsorship.
Jolene Fox, an Arikara woman and pow wow secretary, said that two local industry groups donated a tax-deductible $20,000 to the event. Private donations have helped to offer competitive winnings and draw top musicians and dancers to the pow wow.
However, unlike some of the larger, more commercial pow wows, Johnson said that holding onto local custom is important.
“We try and keep it traditional,” Johnson said.
Every year, the Mandaree pow wow committee provides rations of food to visitors. Drum groups from the area customarily have men rather than women behind the drum, though outside groups are welcome to practice their respective traditions.
While more people have gotten involved in pow wows over the last few decades, Johnson and others on the circuit here have recently been observing the “old style” bouncing back. The most popular dance category at the Mandaree pow wow is the Men’s Traditional, with 31 registrants.
“Right now people are wanting to get back to the roots of being Native,” said Norma Baker-Flying Horse, a champion jingle dress dancer of Hidatsa and Sioux origin.
Other than taking two years off to prepare her children to dance, Baker-Flying Horse has been on the pow wow circuit for as long as she can remember. Mandaree, where she lives with her family and relatives, has a legacy of champion dancers and singers who have embraced their traditional ways.
Baker-Flying Horse’s grandfather, the late Norman Baker of the Hidatsa tribe, was one of the founding brothers of the world-renowned Mandaree Singers, who formed in the late 1950s.
Sidrick Baker, a current member and son of the late Billy Baker, who led the drum group, describes their singing as “straight,” or without words. The Mandaree Singers were one of the first groups to travel around the country to play at different pow wows in the 1970s.
The Mandaree Singers hosted this weekend’s pow wow along with two newer, “old style” groups gaining widespread recognition: Young Bear and Oakdale. In 2012, Young Bear won the Gathering of Nations world singing title and best traditional CD from the Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards.
Although Baker-Flying Horse said she prefers dancing the older style jingle versus the contemporary version, keeping her family connected to their Native identity, no matter what style of dance or song, is most important.
“Without our music, I think we would be totally lost,” she said. “Our music connects us to our way of life.”