121st Arlee Esyapqeyni/Celebration continues once banned tribal celebration 

Char-Koosta News 

ARLEE — The beat goes on in the Jocko Valley for the 121st time. Like all indigenous people of America the Séliš and Ql̓ispé tribal people have long held their culture, traditions and spirituality close to their hearts. They are a part of their being, the foundation of their unique existence historically and presently in America. Despite consistent efforts by the federal government to strip the original inhabitants of America of their being — their soul — the tribal people have persevered. That was evident in all its glory at the 121st Annual Arlee Esyapqeyni/Celebration.

Tribal cultural celebrations were one of the things the federal government and its agents tried to put the lid on. However the lid on the 

Flathead Reservation eventually got blown off like a Roman candle thanks to the American celebration of the founding of America. 

The earliest evidence of an attempt to hold a Fourth of July Celebration was in 1891. In the 1890s, however, traditional Indian dances were illegal under Bureau of Indian Affairs rules, and the Indian police and Flathead Indian Agent Peter Ronan used the threat of U.S. Army intervention to break up the dance. The Bureau of Indian Affairs found it difficult to argue that it should be illegal to celebrate the Fourth of July, though for a time government attempts to suppress traditional dances forced the tribes to hold them secretly. Because of this repression it is hard to establish definitively when the first Fourth of July Powwow was held.

The earliest contemporary record is an article in a Missoula newspaper describing the 1900 Fourth of July Powwow or Celebration. In 1977 Blind Mose Chouteh, a Salish elder, placed the first Arlee powwow three years before the 1901 smallpox epidemic. That would put the first Fourth of July Celebration in 1898. Morton J. Elrod, a professor from Missoula and one of the earliest white visitors to the powwow, left some stories about his visit to Indian dances on the Flathead Reservation during the late 1890s. Elrod did not give an exact year or time of year. In 1998 Father George de la Motte, SJ, preached a sermon at Jocko Agency near Arlee that talked about the revelry of the Jocko Indians on July 4, 1898. While the sermon did not mention traditional dances or label the occasion a powwow, presumably de la Motte was preaching against the Fourth of July Powwow.

The Séliš and Ql̓ispé, like all tribal people, hold the sacrifices of military veterans close to their hearts and honor them every the Fourth of July at the Arlee Esyapqeyni/Celebration. The honoring begins with the Snake Dance. Historically he Snake Dance was done to begin a war dance. It was led by a chosen man who gathered the dancers at a designated spot, generally at the camp of the Chief of the Celebration. The dancers danced in single file towards the ward dance pavilion with the leader weaving and doubling back in a fashion of a snake. The drummers and singers followed the group singing the Snake Dance Song.

And so it was at Arlee. War Dance Chief Stephan Small Salmon led the dancers into the dance arbor. Once all the dancer danced their way into the arbor, a flag song was sang then came the recognition of the military veterans in attendance. Among the veterans were two World War II tribal veterans, Francis “Plassie” Stanger from the Flathead Reservation and Lou Maillet from Superior.  

Also a part of this year’s Fourth of July Arlee Esyapqeyni was the acknowledgement of three U.S. Navy sailors who are visiting western Montana. They are a part of the crew that will be manning the soon to be christened and commissioned Navy submarine, the USS Montana.

“This will be the second USS Montana,” said Bill Whitsitt, chair of the USS Montana Committee, about the recently constructed nuclear submarine to be named the USS Montana. Christening, or officially naming the submarine after the Big Sky State is tentatively scheduled for next year. Crewmembers are presently being trained on the Virginia Class submarine. Commissioning, or the official transfer of SSN 794 from Newport News shipbuilding yard to the U.S. Navy Fleet, will come after sea trials and completion of the USS Montana is certified by the U.S. Navy. That is expected to happen in 2021. Following commissioning, the USS Montana is expected to serve our nation with a range of missions around the world for more than three decades. “The first USS Montana was commissioned in 1908 and decommissioned in 1921.”

The three sailors — Tyler Fellows, Aaron Bishop and Marlon Houghton — of the USS Montana crew were on hand to meet the people they are serving at the Arlee Celebration on the Fourth of July. Whitsitt said that the sailors, in small groups, would be coming to Montana in the next year or so to meet the people of Montana to learn about the history and culture of the state and its citizens. Sailors have already been doing that and visited various areas of Montana and are scheduled to visit southwestern Montana next month and eastern Montana in the fall. 

A couple of months ago representatives from the USS Montana came to Pablo to inform the Tribal Council about the nuclear submarine. During the Fourth of July Arlee Celebration Tribal Council Chairman Ronald Trahan presented the USS Montana Sailors with a Flathead Nation flag, and Pablo District Rep. Dennis Clairmont presented them with a photo-plaque.

The official emblem of the USS Montana contains components that recognize Montana’s history, culture and values. It includes nods to Montana’s tribal nations with two eagle feathers prominently displayed on the right side of the emblem.

Whitsitt said the feathers design element was chosen to be a part of the emblem by the crew. They are an acknowledgement of the tribes in Montana and their culture and courage.

“We are delighted to be here at the Arlee Celebration. CSKT were the first tribes to publicly support the USS Montana and we have strong tribal support in the state,” Whitsitt said. “Today is a very powerful backdrop for what we are doing. The respect the tribal people show the veterans is very commendable.”

And the beat goes on.

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