Hundreds of dancers showed up at the 2010 Kyi-Yo Powwow at the University of Montana with hopes of winning big prize money — but many of them left miffed and disappointed around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning.
I went to the Kyi-Yo Powwow Friday night and Saturday. I arrived at the Adams Center with my 2-year-old girl and my traditional dance regalia. I registered as a dance contestant on Friday. But, once I settled inside and got myself and the toddler ready for grand entry, I realized this was a greater time commitment than I was prepared to handle. I made the decision that I would enjoy the powwow as much as possible without getting in the dance contest.
Like me, lovers of song and dance gathered in Missoula for the student-run Kyi-Yo Powwow. Many came to watch, many more came to support drummers and singers and hundreds of men, women and teenagers showed up to register in the dance contest. The prize money at Kyi-Yo offered prizes for the top five dancers in about a dozen categories. The winners are typically announced at the very end of the powwow. Everyone is then given their money and the happy winners drive off to all the four directions. I left around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, saying goodnight to my friends who were in the dance contest in the women’s and men’s traditional categories. It was getting late. I was tired, my girl was tired. She was tired and happy. She had a great time being a kid and simply enjoying the beat of the drum. My friends’ kids were tired too, but their whole family had to stay because they were in the dance contest.
I was really shocked to talk to my friend Kella WithHorn today. I wanted to hear all about the contest winners. Instead, she told me that half the winners were not paid. She said one of the Kyi-Yo committee members made an announcement around 3 a.m. informing everyone in the Adams Center that the committee didn’t have money to pay all the dancers. I’ve been to scores of powwows in my life, but I’ve never been to one where I heard an announcement like that. It’s a rare occurrence.
Understandably so, the announcement was followed by boos and hisses from the families and contestents who had been waiting so patiently for the payout.
What went wrong with this year’s Kyi-Yo Powwow? Some people blamed the University of Montana leaders for failing to pay. Others blamed last year’s Kyi-Yo committee. The truth will arise soon enough. It’s disconcerting that a few people seemed to have known last week that the powwow was going to fall short an estimated $15,000, according to the Indian grapevine. I tried calling one of the student organizers but her phone was turned off. Her voice mail box was also full, so I couldn’t leave a message. So why didn’t anyone from the powwow committee speak up at the beginning of the powwow rather than wait until the wee hours Sunday morning?
2010 Kyi-Yo Officers:
President, Giesel Eagle Feathers
Vice President, Natani Pete
Treasurer, Kalem Lame Bull
Secretary, Suzette Means
Program Coordinator, Robert Peltier
It’s a great disappointment to see the Kyi-Yo students in this situation. I hope someone makes good on the contest payouts for all the drummers, singers and dancers who should have been paid.