April 20-21, 2012 was the 44th Annual Kyi-Yo Pow-wow held at the Adam’s Center on the UM campus. Kyi-Yo is the Blackfoot word for “bear”. Every year, dancers, drummers, students, faculty, and large families travel to be a part of the student run pow-wow.
The Kyi-Yo Club has been fundraising, advertising, and planning since autumn semester, and all their hard work was last week’s product of a very successful and inspiring event. Heather Cahoon is a lecturer in the Native American Studies Department who has been the mentor and instructor the past two years for the Kyi-Yo Club, she has taught two special topics courses on fundraising and event planning this year.
The Annual Kyi-Yo Pow-wow is an event anticipated and held close to the hearts of the Native American community on the UM campus, but it isn’t the only time Native American people feel close to their culture and ways of life.
Heather Cahoon, lecturer, mother, and Native American woman explains her experience of being a part of the Kyi-Yo Pow wow as “gratifying”. Some of her strongest beliefs and traditions that she implements in her life and with her family are the, “ uses of plants, animals and land of my reservation”.
Heather’s experience working with Kyi-Yo the past two years has given her insight to more of the “behind the scenes” aspects of putting on a pow-wow. She shared, “The students are always great to work with, especially this year--there were a several students who were classic over-achievers, which made my job easier and more enjoyable”.
Salena Hill, Native American Studies Department Academic Advisor has also spent her life being taught lessons, traditions, and grew up as a woman’s traditional dancer in the pow-wow community. Salena has spent nearly the past ten years dedicating her career, skills, and insight about being Native American to the student on the UM campus while giving them support about academics. Salena expressed her gratitude for UM “making diversity a priority on campus”. Not as a staff member or representation of UM but as a Native American woman and community member, Salena says, “I look forward to the pow-wow every year, and this year was very positive. Every year I’ve gone it has been enjoyable.”
Salena’s face lit up when she talked about her favorite aspect of pow-wows. “I never knew the importance of Grand Entry until my adult hood, but now when I see my people dressed in their regalia and hear the music it gives me goose bumps. You just see the pride and I become happy with where I am from.” On the UM campus there are many aspects, atmospheres, and buildings that can make a person feel at home, which is a huge reason why UM has a strongly accrediated diversity reputation. Salena’s laughter filled her Native American Center office when she explained what gives her that sense of “home” feeling on the UM campus. “When I accidently stumble on students in the study lounge or even in the office, I am able to be in that moment with them, talking. There is sense of humor Native people share, and it gives me a glimpse of home”.
It takes many people and volunteers to put on a successful pow-wow. The Kyi-Yo Pow-wow is organized and put on by the Kyi-Yo Club and many volunteers. The President of this year’s Kyi-Yo Club, Lilian Alvernaz has had her hands full with making decisions, brainstorming ideas with the club, and essentially implementing the hard work of the club. Lillian is affiliated with the Sisseton Wahpeton Assiniboine Sioux and a small amount of Blackfeet. She was raised by the Assiniboine traditions and ceremonies. She describes her future goals with determination and strength, “After obtaining my Bachelors in Social Work with a minor in Native American Studies, I'd like to go on and get a Masters in Social Work or just go straight to Law school and become a tribal lawyer somewhere in Montana, helping my people. Fighting from the inside out, representing Indian Country, and hopefully make some major impacts”.
Lillian comes from a tradition background and teachings from elders and her parents , Antonio “Tony” Alvernaz and Toni Plummer Alvernaz. She expresses her gratitude, “Together, I feel I have been blessed to have such amazing parents who made me into a well rounded person, knowledge and experience in important aspects of life”. As Lillian’s first year as President of the Kyi-Yo Club, it has been a learning experience, and with every learning experience and first time at something new there is always a lot to reflect on. When asked if she felt a sense of being relieved after a long year of planning, she answered, “Yes, very relieved. I'm almost sad though, my mind is full of "should have..could have..would have.." I learned so much along the way that I wish I could be President just once more and improve everything I did this year”.
The successful pow-wow last week will remain in the hearts and minds of everyone who volunteered, attended, and especially those who have worked nearly a school year to make it a great event. There are many men and women to thank for the tremendous turnout, laughs, inspiring songs, and memories. But, the Native American women of the University of Montana inspire their culture; they leave everlasting impacts on others around them. They wear the pride of their cultures and background on their sleeves and they are wonderful role models for Native American people and even non-Native American people.