During July and August in Montana there are one or more authentic northern pow wows every weekend that are open to the public. They all provide a glimpse into the culture of the Northern Plains Indians as well as a good time for all. The only question is, do you want to take the high road or the low road? Either one provides fabulous scenery and famous landmarks along the way to an unforgettable cultural experience.
Montana “High Line” Pow Wow Circuit
The Arlee Celebration kicks off the Montana “High Line” Pow Wow Circuit, where there is a northern pow wow or two open to the public every weekend for more than two months. The High Line is named for the BNSF Railway (originally the mainline of the Great Northern Railway) and U.S. Highway 2, which is the northernmost highway in the United States.
1st week of July
The Arlee Celebration is always held the first week in July to correspond with the 4th of July holiday. Campers begin coming in the Thursday before the 4th and it runs through the weekend following the 4th of July (usually the first weekend in July).
Arlee claims to be the oldest continuous pow wow held at the same location each year in North America. 2007 is it’s 109th continuous year at the present location. It is near the famous Lolo Pass Trailhead. Fort Fizzle Historic Site Picnic Area parallels the historic Lolo trail once used by the Nez Perce, Salish and Kootenai tribes and Lewis and Clark. Facilities include interpetive signs and hiking trails to fishing access.
Nearby is Fort Fizzle. Fort Fizzle is a wooden barricade on the Lolo Trail erected by Missoula volunteers led by Captain Rawn to stop the advance of Chief Joseph during the Nez Perce war. Captain Rawn had clear orders. He said the Nez Perce could not pass; however, the barricade failed when the Nez Perce, with their horses and possessions, climbed a steep ravine behind the ridge to the north and bypassed the soldiers. This maneuver earned White Bird the nickname of the “Indian Hannibal” and the previously unnamed barricade became a ridiculed “Fort Fizzle.”
The nearby town of Frenchtown has a public 18-hole golf course and St. John The Baptist Catholic Church, a 104 year old church, that is the oldest church in Montana that is still in use.
Arlee 4th of July Celebration grounds are east of Highway 93 at the south end of Arlee. Turn east off Highway 93 on to Pow-Wow Road and go east 0.5 mile.
2nd weekend in July
As soon as the celebration is over at Arlee, the craft booths and competition dancers begin making their way over the mountains to Browning, Montana at the Eastern Gateway to Glacier Park to grab a good camping spot on the powwow grounds with the locals for the Blackfeet North American Indian Days the weekend following the 4th of July (2nd weekend in July). The Thursday preceding the 2nd weekend in July is the official camp day, but many people begin arriving earlier.
Camping on the pow wow grounds in your tent or RV is free, but respect the markers of traditional families’ camp spots. Camping is primitive, with outhouses and a few cold water spigots provided. Showers can be had at the local high school pool house a few blocks away for a nominal fee.
There is also one very small motel in town, a couple private campgrounds with shower houses and hookups available, and several bed and breakfast establishments in the area.
Overnight and extended stays in a traditional Blackfeet tipi camp in a pristine prairie setting are offered for individuals, families and groups at the Lodge Pole Gallery & Tipi Village from May to September. A shower house and lounge-dining room for tipicamp guests is also part of of the services provided. Traditional specialty and gourmet meals (buffalo, antelope, deer, elk or seafood) can be arranged for guests or groups. Amskapi Pikuni (Southern Blackfeet) cuisine is offered at the evening meal.
Browning is the headquarters of the Blackfeet Reservation, and home to the Plains Indian Museum and the famous bronze sculpturist, Bob Scriver. It is also at the gateway to the Eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. In 1895, the tribe sold what is now Glacier National Park to the government for mineral exploration.
From scraps of rusted automobiles, bits of barbed wire and the stones of an old mission school; artist Jay Laber has created a statue of two Native American warriors astride their horses at the southeast entrance to the Blackfeet Reservation. This sculpture, and three others just like it, greet visitors at the four entrances to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
North American Indian Days is the largest and most impressive of the Blackfeet tribal events, and hosts Native Americans from every region of the United States and Canada. Featured events include traditional drumming and dancing contests, the crowning of Miss Blackfeet, a parade, fun run and more.
Cultural history tours to buffalo jumps, tipi rings, etc. including the Museum of the Plains Indian and activities such as horseback riding and hikes with a Blackfeet guide can be arranged in this reservation town.
If you’re a fisherman, you’ll want to fish one of the Reservation’s many lakes—among the best in the world for trout (tribal permit required). You might hook 10-pound rainbows, as well as browns and brookies.
After catching a few fish, catch Highway 2 and head toward Cut Bank. If you’re a Lewis and Clark buff, you’ll love this area. About 12 miles outside of Browning is Camp Disappointment, the northern most point of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Near Cut Bank, Two Medicine Fight Site is the location of the only Indian casualty of the journey.
Browning is on Highway 2 at the junction of Highways 89 and East Glacier Loop Highway 464. The pow wow grounds are directly behind the Museum of the Plains Indian on Highway 2. You will be able to see and hear it from the Main Street of Browning.
3rd Weekend in July
The third weekend in July, the High Line crosses back west from Browning over the mountains on Highway 2 to the Kootenai Standing Arrow Pow Wow at Elmo, MT, adjacent to the beautiful Flathead Lake just 30 miles south of Kalispell, MT, at the western end of Glacier Park.
Or, if you prefer, you can take the High Line east over the open prairie land after the Browning North American Indian Days to the small town of Poplar, MT for the Wahcinca Dakota Oyate Celebration held on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge is on the way. Self-guided hiking trails and an 14-mile driving tour around the wildlife refuge are some popular side trips. One tour stop is the site of teepee rings of stone, perhaps 4,000 years old, which mark areas where Indian lodges were built.
Another highlight of the refuge is a 100-foot observation tower which offers a panoramic view of the area, and an observation platform with telescopes that provide a view of the largest white pelican colony in Montana, which contains over 10,000 birds.
Popular has a free City Museum housed in the old Tribal Jail built around 1920, now on the historic register. Frontier and Indian collections are displayed in the cells, with emphasis on the intricate beadwork and quilt work of the Sioux – Assiniboine people. Poplar is 21 miles east of Wolf Point on Highway 2. Wolf Point also has an indian and pioneer museum and is home to the John Deere Tractor Museum.