Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Elder Kenny McClure still dancing after all these years

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

McClure holds up two different types of buckskin shirts he made over the years. (Lailani Upham photo)McClure holds up two different types of buckskin shirts he made over the years. (Lailani Upham photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — His story is about not growing up “Indian” or understanding his cultural ways or language. He was on the Reservation when assimilating the Native children to white man’s ways was at hand. However, the movement no matter how socially and politically sturdy it was – Kenny McClure found his strength and enjoyment in his identity of a Salish man.

If you go to any powwow on the Flathead Reservation chances are you will spot Kenny McClure  — leading the grand entry, smiling across the arena at a friend, or contentedly reclined in a lawn chair near the dance circle immersing his soul in the songs and dances.

McClure holds a pair of moccasins that was handed down to him. (Lailani Upham photo)McClure holds a pair of moccasins that was handed down to him. (Lailani Upham photo)

McClure, who is branded as an elder in the Flathead community, might not take heed to the title given him when approached. “I’m not that old,” he joked when approached about for some chief wisdom.

Kenny lives a modern-day Salish man life. His home of decades sits only yards from where he grew up in a log cabin in St. Ignatius.

He left home as a young man to join the Army. After returning home he was drawn to dancing and started making his own dance regalia in his mid-twenties. His self-taught skills caught the attention of others who often asked who taught him how to do. “I had to teach myself,” said McClure. His dad, who was also Salish, lived the cowboy life.

Dancing sticks hangs as a décor in the McClure home. (Lailani Upham photo)Dancing sticks hangs as a décor in the McClure home. (Lailani Upham photo)

McClure said he credits his old Native ways to his sobriety. He did drink for several years he said, even when he was active dancing at powwows – but not while at a powwow or dancing. “I’d stay sober during the weekends, but come the week I’d be back at it (drinking),” he said. One day he told himself, if he could stay sober on weekends he could do it during the week. And he did. It’s been a decade or so since McClure kept clean of alcohol he said. It’s not a cure all, he said. Luring thoughts still come his way, but it is a choice he makes daily — and dancing, socializing at powwows, and regalia making keeps him going strong.

An older portrait of McClure on a horse from an Arlee parade hangs in the living room. (Lailani Upham photo)An older portrait of McClure on a horse from an Arlee parade hangs in the living room. (Lailani Upham photo)

He jokingly admitted the main longing for those bygone days at the bar was, “flirting with the ladies,” but disclosed he can still flirt around at the powwows.

McClure has had his share of health ailments over the years, from being diagnosed a diabetic to hip and knee surgery, but again, dancing has kept him strong in his mind and body.

He doesn’t travel afar like he used to, but still tries to get to most local powwows. His sight might not be as good as it used to but it doesn’t stop him from crafting up on his regalia collection.

McClure is retired after a thirty-plus year career at Kicking Horse Job Corps.
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