ARLEE - One of the great powwows, with one of the great histories, kicks off Wednesday when the Arlee Celebration gets under way on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
It's the 110th year of the powwow, which falls over the Fourth of July for a reason.
"How it got started was as a result of an Indian agent telling the tribe they couldn't do celebrations or ceremonies anymore," says Salisha Old Bull, a schedule coordinator for the powwow. "Since the Fourth of July was an American holiday, the tribe held an event then, claiming they were celebrating Independence Day. It became an annual get-together."
Anywhere from 300 to 700 dancers from around the West descend on the powwow grounds in Arlee, some of them among the 1,000 or so campers who stay on the 25-acre site through the week. Another 2,000 or more spectators attend the powwow each day, Old Bull says.
Returning to the 2008 powwow after an absence of five or more years, according to Old Bull, are two things.
An "Old Style" Day on Thursday will offer "mostly traditional Salish dances that happened historically at war dances," she says.
And Saturday will start with an 11 a.m. parade that has been absent for five years.
Grand marshals are Jake Hill and James Trosper of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, descendants of Shoshone Chief Washakie.
"They sought out people in our tribe 10 to 15 years ago" after learning Chief Washakie's father was a Salish Indian, according to Old Bull.
Washakie's mother was from one of the Shoshone tribal groups.
Washakie was a noted warrior at one time, and there are stories that have been passed down saying he was known for placing stones in a dried balloon made of buffalo hide and tying it on a stick, which he would carry into battle and shake to frighten enemy horses.
His prowess in battle and wise counsel earned him the right to serve as chief of his people, according to "The Shoshonis: Sentinels of the Rockies" by Virginia Cole Trenholm and Maurine Carley. Washakie was instrumental in securing the Wind River Valley - which originally had been given to the Crows, the Shoshones' enemies - for their reservation.
He was reportedly the only Indian chief buried with full U.S. military honors when he died in 1900, and the only one to have a military post (Fort Washakie) named after him.
Hill and Trosper have been attending the Arlee Powwow since first contacting Salish elders about Washakie, whose father is said to have been killed by Blackfeet Indians who were invading a Flathead village.
"They have made many friends here over the years," Old Bull says of the parade's grand marshals.
The powwow will have four grand entries - at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Old Bull says another highlight is Friday's 2 p.m. snake dance, "which is just what it sounds like: a long line of people form a big snake. A lot of people who don't usually dance participate in this one. It only happens one time a year."
War dance chief for the powwow is Octave Finley. Oshanee Kenmille is head lady, and powwow committee chairman Alec Quequesah will serve as announcer.
Wednesday: Campers' Day; memorial at 7 p.m., with material stickgame to follow.
Thursday: "Old Style" Day; events begin at noon and include Native games, scalp dance, war dance, old-style regalia, coffee dance, canvas dance.
Friday: Snake dance at 2 p.m., grand entry at 7 p.m.
Saturday: Parade at 11 a.m., grand entry at 2 and 7 p.m.
Sunday: Indian Mass at 10 a.m., grand entry at 1 p.m.