United Tribes powwow celebrates 50 years

A few hundred young and old Native American dancers dressed in full regalia joined the grand entry to fill Lone Star Arena at the 49th annual United Tribes Technical College International Powwow in Bismarck in 2018.

BISMARCK — United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck will end a week of events celebrating its 50th anniversary with its International Powwow, which kicks off Friday, Sept. 6.

The annual powwow, which attracts dancers from dozens of tribes across the U.S. and Canada and awards more than $100,000 in prize money, is “one of the Top 10 powwows in the nation,” college President Leander McDonald said.

But it wasn’t always like that.

The earliest documented powwow held at United Tribes on April 11, 1970, was an informal, minimally publicized event, according to a 50 Year Chronology of the college’s history.

The next powwow occurred July 24-26 that same year. This powwow was publicized, and the community was invited to tour the new “Indian school.” The Bismarck Tribune reported that a “powwow set for 7 p.m. will feature representatives of several Indian tribes showing tribal dances. Prizes will be awarded for the best performances.”

About two dozen dancing and singing contestants were awarded $4,900 in total prize money, equivalent to more than $32,000 in 2019 dollars.

Lee Fox Sr., a building trades student at the time, is credited with coming up with the idea of the powwow.

“We need a last dance before the cold,” he said at the time, according to the college. His descendants recently donated more than $50,000 to the college for the powwow.

“It was Lee Fox Sr. that brought with them the idea that they wanted something from home with them when they were here. So they created a big cultural celebration,” said Dennis Neumann, archivist and historian at the college.

“It then became fixed in the cycle of powwows as the last of the large outdoor powwows of the season on the northern Great Plains,” Neumann said.

The three-day powwow kicks off at 8 a.m. Friday with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by a cultural performance for kids at 10 a.m.

The grand entries are at 7 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m Sunday. In addition to dancing competitions, the powwow includes other events such as golf, softball and basketball tournaments.

Local economic development officials have estimated the powwow draws up to 10,000 visitors to the community, boosting the local economy by over $1 million.

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