Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival builds on 54 years of culture, history
FORT HALL, Idaho — The annual Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival had its humble beginning as a social powwow on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho, 54 years ago.
Fast forward to 2017, and it is one of the top-rated powwows in the nation, attracting tens of thousands of specators each year to watch thousands of Native Americans compete in singing and dance competitions, featuring some of the top dancers and drum groups in North America.
The annual powwow features traditional Native American dancing, singing, arts and crafts, and many other festivities, which include the Fort Hall All-Indian Jr/Sr Rodeo, Miss Shoshone-Bannock Contest, Festival Parade, Children’s Day Powwow, Festival Princess Contest, Traditional Indian Handgames, Indian Relay Horse Races, Buffalo and Salmon Feast, and Indian Art Shows, among others.
“When the powwow started it was just the community members,“ Gary Watson, Powwow committee and tribal member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, said in an interview with First Nation’s Focus during the 2017 powwow, which took place August 10-13 in Fort Hall. “Over the years, it has been growing and growing, and now is one of the largest outside powwows there is.”
In August 1964, former Shoshone-Bannock Recreation Director Reeves Nawoosky (Comanche) came to Fort Hall and planned the festival that is still held today.
The event was at first called a social powwow, according to the festival’s website, because of the local community members who participated.
One of the main highlights that is still continued today, was the Miss Shoshone-Bannock pageant, which brought in over 10 young women from around the reservation to compete to represent their people.
According to the festival’s website, the cultural pageant was the first of its kind and considered to be a prestigious new title for young Shoshone-Bannock women.
Each contestant wore her finest handmade deer skin dresses and family beadwork. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s, where the winner was given a fully beaded ‘Miss Shoshone-Bannock’ sash and matching turquoise crown with the Shoshone rose to wear throughout her reign.
“My title is to represent our tribes and be the voice for our youth and people, and to let other tribes all over the world know who we are,” said Crystal Dawn Ariwite, who was crowned 2017 Miss Shoshone-Bannock at this summer’s festival.
Ariwite said she has wanted the chance to represent her people as Miss Shoshone-Bannock ever since she was a little girl, and now that she has that opportunity, she plans to be a good role model for the youth.
“I want to encourage all of our kids to continue their education,” she said. “These little kids are our future, and we need the teach them our culture, and we haven’t really been doing that, but that is something I want to do.”
Ariwite wants people to know that she is determined to make a positive change within her community and will use her platform to do so.
“‘Dene Wap’ is my platform,” she said. “Dene Wap means our way of life, our culture and our traditions and everything that makes us a tribe.”
The 2018 festival, which will be the 55th annual, is scheduled for Aug. 9-12 at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho.
“We continue to strive to provide a safe and friendly event for our membership, visitors and guest from all over the country and Canada,” said 2017 festival coordinator Tino Batt in an email to First Nation’s Focus.
Jarrette Werk (Aaniiih) is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who worked this summer for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus.
The phrase “Indian Education” itself invokes generations of federal legislation aimed to assimilate via education. Modern day, the Title VI Indian Education Program administered by the Bureau of Indian Education provides federal funds to various educational institutions of students enrolled in federally recognized tribes.