Photo courtesy Alexandra Hootnick
The women's jingle dress category on Friday night at Fort Berthold's Mandaree Pow Wow.

Mandaree Pow Wow Blows Up, Sets Record For Dancers, Drummers

Alexandra Hootnick

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. Elmer Flying Horse Jr., 8, takes a minute to collect himself before the Friday Grand Entry at the Mandaree pow wow in Mandaree, N.D. Flying Horse Jr. was chosen to be the Head Men's Dancer next year. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Hootnick.)

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.”

Grand Entry Saturday night at the Mandaree pow wow on Fort Berthold. Even though the pow wow drew 347 registered dancers and 29 drum groups, it has a relatively low profile. Most visitors learned of the event by word of mouth or Facebook. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Hootnick.)

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
We need to see more of our traditional ways, dress & music instead of all the new-fangled garb I see coming into powwow's. Let's see a return to the traditional materials & colors as well. Perhaps we need to have separate powwow's for just that exact thing. As a traditionalist in my ways I just see all these new things as taking our young ones away from who we are & where we came from. same thing goes for some of the music I hear at some powwow's as well. It is not who are people were or where we came from.To gain the power & wisdom of the past we must return to the ancient ways as well. I am so tired of seeing our kids dress like hip-hop thugs with their pants & shorts hanging down to their knees & ball caps turned around every which way. It is disrespectful & shameful at the music I hear so many young folks listening to as well. It degrades females, disrespects our elders & those in authority. It praises drugs, booze & shameful behaviors. That is disgraceful my friends. We are First Nations People folks. NOT African gangsters. Who is at fault here folks? The parents are; that's who! If you didn't allow your children to hear these things, play them in your homes, wear those clothes that YOU bought them; etc. The fault lies on your hands parents who allow such things in your homes. We need POSITIVE role models for our young people. Not the negative I see in so many different places. Parents, how about stepping up & standing up for what is right for a change? We have way too much negative going on with all the drugs & alcohol abuse across Indian Country my friends. One more First Nation person dying from all these negative things is one person too many. I am tired of all the funerals across our lands because of these evil things my friends. We have the power within our own hands to change this climate of hopelessness. All it takes is taking a stand against ALL the negative & instead promoting wholesome, healthy lifestyles, family-oriented events my friends. Are YOU going to be a hero in your community & take that stand against all the negative? Join me my friends in standing up TODAY & saying, " No More!" Be one of the positive elders, men, women & young people in YOUR community TODAY that leads the way in leading our people away from all the negative influences & return them to the good ways of our ancestors. The Great Spirit will guide each one of us our here across Indian Country & where ever else our many people live across Turtle Island if you just allow Him in your lives to show you the good ways of our ancestors my friends. The power to be a people respected, honored & cherished is within each one our hands IF we take a stand to make the changes we need to make one person at a time, one family at a time, one clan at a time & one tribe at a time my friends & distant relations. The Creator loves a good heart & a spirit that is willing to change in a good way. May the Great Spirit watch over & bless each of you my friends & those so special in your lives.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I agree with Two Bears Growling. It's distressing to find NDN youths mimicking Black thug dress. African-American gang culture has boys white enough to glow in the dark speaking and acting like rap artists. We have our own cultures and if we're going to mimick anyone it should be another NDN. Teach the young to appreciate their own culture. There is no need to idolize rap artists when there are so many noteworthy NDN singers and musicians.

deborah clark's picture
deborah clark
Submitted by deborah clark on
i love pop wows i was raise up with all Indians NATIONS around me . i am Indian, I am proud to be a Indian. i would love to know when and where there is any pop wows in GA. villa Rica Ga.

smarmonk's picture
Submitted by smarmonk on
I hear what you say about the way children are raised. This is a problem everywhere. Parents allow their children to be exposed to the worst kind of violence and sexual content. They allow their sons to play Grand Theft Auto. They allow their children to swear, to be disrespectful and to choose not to help them learn to be decent human beings. Of course, the parents cannot do this...most of them have never been exposed to that concept Such parents not only fail to raise their children, they model the behaviors you described so well directly to their own children and any other child who has contact with them. We now have a generation of ruined parents raising another generation of ruined children in the USA. I am not Native, but remember very clearly when I first noticed this in the 1980s at a local fair. Little girls and pre teen girls were dressed like hookers. That is a harsh word to use, but it is the truth. What is worse, some of them knew they were dressed like that to attract male attention. Others seemed oblivious to the reality of how they dressed. All of them were at so much risk. I grieve for these children. I am not sure how to effect change. In raising my own children, I stressed the importance of attaining what is best in being human. My grandson's parents, my husband, and myself all work to teach this same concept to my grandson. Now that I am no longer an active parent I try to reach out to and teach the children I come into contact with to be respectful, loving, and decent to others. I do so both by drawing clear boundaries around how they can behave when with me and through example. I try to be very aware of what I am teaching them through what I do. I have heard so many times from little lost souls "I wish you were my mother," "I wish I lived here." At first, this was unexpected as I thought these children would resent the rules of our house. Then I realized that children blossom in a house with good rules, designed to keep them and others around them safe, kind, and responsible. I also try to help other adults understand their responsibility to all the children in the neighborhood, and, yes, the nation. This has proved usually fruitless and I often feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Many of these adults a rep profoundly selfish and constantly concerned that someone may be receiving something that person did not deserve. These are the parents who are angry that they have to pay school taxes once their own children are grown and out of school. They believe that their only responsibility is to their own children. I cannot give up. As long as I am able, I will work with any child who comes to my home to help them realize what is best and most important in being human. These children are so bleak. They do not see a positive future for themselves. They are insecure, desperate to be loved and carry a huge, suppressed rage that they do not receive the unconditional love they so desperately need. I have comet to believe that much of their violence is a result of that anger. And the way they are raised results in behaviors which confirm they are unlovable...the behaviors, the music, the culture you describe. The only way I know to reach them is to love them and wait and see how it works out. Some of them seem to be unreachable,at least by me, but there are many among them who will eventually respond very well. As I am now an elder, a position I take very seriously, I must try to give some wisdom to these lost children. I did not intend to go on so long, but Two Bears Growling speaks about an issue which is very near to my heart.