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Nine years ago, it was a few dancers strutting their stuff at Big Sky High School for a one-night celebration.

Today, more than 100 Native dancers from Missoula's schools vie for money over two days of competition, and hundreds more from across the state pack the school during the two-day Honoring Our Youth powwow.

But the full-blown powwow, which now features food, vendors and all the brilliant colors of Native dance regalia and the attendant thundering drums, is still all about the kids.

"The way it grew," said Gisele Forrest, of the Missoula County Public Schools Indian Education department, "we have always maintained our focus on the youth."

Forrest, who is also president of the community-based group Honoring Our Youth, said the powwow is just one important part of Indian Education For All, the state-mandated requirement for Native education in Montana's public schools.

Planned by the district, the powwow offers professional development credits for teachers, and educational credits for students.

There are around 460 Native students in Missoula's schools, and around one-third of them participate in some way in the powwow, said Forrest - even if they can't quite afford the hundreds if not thousands of dollars required to fashion traditional Native dance regalia.

"There are lots of Native American kids who like to dance, but making the outfits is quite expensive," she said. "So we realized we had to have activities that didn't involve Native regalia."

Such as Indian cakewalks, and even a street-dance competition.

"We've allowed the freedom to express yourself any way you want," she said. "We've had kids go out there and break dance, and line dance, and even body-slam."

Over the two days, students from two age groups, and six dance categories, compete in street dances, as well as the traditional Indian dances.

The events are all open and free to the public, including Saturday evening's potluck. There will also be concessions and vendors of Native clothing, art, beadwork and other items.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at


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