2019 American Indian Council Powwow

The 2019 American Indian Council Powwow held at MSU's Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. The American Indian Council Powwow was one of the largest powwows held in Montana. 

The 47th annual American Indian Council (AIC) Powwow, the “biggest cultural event in Bozeman,” is approaching on March 31. That’s according to John Murray, a business student and a member of MSU’s Powwow Leadership Course. Murray and his classmates, along with the AIC, make up a small team of students organizing the powwow.

The event, which is a free celebration of Native American culture, will host dancers, vendors and pageant competitors from across the U.S. Organizers are preparing to fill the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse with attendees and competitors. 

Preparing for a powwow is no small task. The planning team spends the first few weeks of the spring semester fundraising for the following year’s powwow, according to Murray. “It’s a lot of groundwork. It’s a lot of organizing. It’s a lot of communicating,” he said. 

To prepare for the spring current year’s powwow, students divide into eight committees that cover aspects such as security logistics and pageant organization, as well as an alumni breakfast, a weekend-long basketball tournament and a fun run. Course members are also tasked with recruiting volunteers and promoting the event on social media.  

The AIC’s fundraising efforts, separate from those of the class, begin during the fall semester, according to AIC social chair, Cheyenne Rose Whiteman. The AIC is also in charge of selecting the head staff for the powwow, including arena directors, head dancers, the host drum and judge panels for the dances and the pageant. 

Once the spring semester begins, members of the AIC are assigned to work with a committee from the powwow leadership course. “A lot of students don’t have experience in event planning on this level,” said Nicholas Ross-Dick, who co-teaches the powwow leadership course with Lisa Perry.

The work continues even after the event is over. “After the powwow, we just work on getting a new folder ready for next year’s class — all the information on things we liked and things we have to change,” Whiteman said. 

Based on feedback from last spring’s powwow, students are working on ensuring that concessions are more indigenized than hotdogs and chips, according to Murray. 

Organizers are also currently scrambling to find volunteers. “The leadership course has like ten people in it and then there’s like ten people on the council. Twenty people are not enough to run a powwow,” Whiteman said. Whiteman estimated that over 100 volunteers are needed to fill all the roles. Because the powwow is a community-wide event, volunteer slots are open to anyone, not just MSU students. 

While the leadership course and the AIC organize, powwow participants are putting time into their individual preparations. Pageant competitors must prepare speeches, preferably in their indigenous language and fashion homemade dresses and regalia to compete in. Prior to the competition, dancers also prepare by working out and rehearsing.  

“You have to get in shape for dancing because you’re on your tiptoes for three minutes. And you have two songs, so that’s another three minutes,” said Ruthee Baker, a pre-nursing major and jingle dress dancer. Baker is the head woman dancer for this year’s powwow. 

“I’m trying to run more. A lot more. And just practice. I just turn on some music and dance in my room,” Baker said. 

Baker’s mother made her jingle dress over the course of three weeks — but it’s not done yet. “I have 230 jingles. But I have to put them on. And that takes forever. We have to unravel [each] jingle and clamp it down and make sure it’s straight,” Baker said. 

Despite the weeks — even months — of preparation that go into the powwow, students cherish the event. “It’s really unique,” Whiteman said. “Everyone who’s come to a powwow has really enjoyed their time. [People] really get to see a part of who we are.”

This year more than ever, students have been stepping into knowledge and culture-keeping roles, according to Ross-Dick. Baker, who is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, explained the importance of getting her name out into the native community as head woman dancer. 

“As a little kid, I would look up to the head woman dancer. Now I’m in that role and I’m in the nursing program, going to school, it’s great to represent. Represent my family, my tribe, where I come from, and being a native woman,” Baker said.

If you are interested in volunteering at the AIC powwow, sign up at:


The Powwow is at 6 p.m. on March 31, and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 1 in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. The event will be free to the public.