Jack McNeel
Teenagers lead grand entry at Kalispel Powwow.

Powwow Goers Chomp on Buffalo Meat

Jack McNeel

The Kalispel Indian Reservation is not the easiest place to find, but the trek to the north-eastern corner of Washington state, near the Canadian border, is worth it, especially if you love buffalo.

Despite the distance, dancers and drummers came from remote areas to take part in the three-day Kalispel Powwow. Its grounds are clean, with plenty of room for teepees, tents, campers and vendors. They also come for the buffalo feast.

The Pend Oreille River is nearby, and the tribe’s buffalo herd of nearly 200 can be seen grazing in the pasture. Each year, one of the Kalispel tribe’s buffalo are selected for the powwow meal. Because the attendance has grown each year, they needed two animals this year.

The meal preparation takes several hours. First, the meat is placed in an underground barbeque pit and covered with hot coals. About 17 hours later, the pit is opened, the meat is sampled (to check if it’s done), then, it’s cut up and served.

Approximately 2,400 people were served full lunches this year. Tribal elder Francis Cullooyah said that the selection of the buffalo is based on their value to the herd. They select animals that are “less productive,” those who are not producing calves or bulls and are somewhat the outcasts. Removing the less productive animals strengthens the overall herd. Cullooyah also said that there is no ceremony attached to the butchering.

“Our elders have always told us that when we call the people together, we feed them,” said George Meninick, Sr. who offered the prayer. “Even if it’s just once; and today, that has been done. That is the most powerful gift we can give one another is the food.”

And after they ate, they danced. Cullooyah was Chairman of the powwow committee and personally greeted many of the dancers as they joined the grand entry at the entrance to the Kalispel ceremonial arena.

A severe rainstorm struck during the opening day, but it had little effect on the dancers. “When grand entry came, there were hundreds of dancers that entered the circle.” Cullooyah said. “It was awesome.”

Youth were also honored on Saturday afternoon and they led the way into the arena carrying the eagle staff, as well as the American, Canadian and Kalispel Tribe’s flag.          

“It was really great, Cullooyah said. It was just an awesome weekend.”