Yesterday was the 4th of July, American Independence Day. A time to celebrate being American.
Over the years, I’ve recognized this holiday in many different ways and places. But rarely do I find this tradition — with fireworks, sparklers and an over abundance of beer and food — really speaks to the experience of being an American. As a celebration of the nation, I often find the observances routine.
This year, however, I got a great deal more out of the experience. We drove to Arlee, Montana for the 117th Arlee Celebration, a Pow Wow and gathering of the many Native Peoples and cultures in North America. The event is held in the town of Arlee, on the Flathead Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, just 30 minutes north of Missoula. The message of this event is one of inclusion and solidarity. The Arlee Celebration seeks “to follow the footprints of our elders,” and recognize that “our ancestors paved this cultural path for us and we continue paving this path for our future.” The Celebration started on July 1 and runs through July 5th this year with the main ceremony on July 4th being the Snininpmncutn (Snake Dance), in honor of veterans. There were amazing traditional costumes, dances and drumming.
At one point while watching the dancing, a friend turned to me and remarked of the costumes, “the more one looks, the more one sees.” She may have been referring to a particular area of bead and feather-work on a single costume, or she could easily have been referring to the entire event.
With temperatures nearing 100 degrees, it was a hot day, but one which resounded with a sense of what it truly means to be an American: we are a nation of great diversity and difference. And these differences matter. They enrich us as a country, and as a “people”. Showing respect to the elders is a way of affirming our belief in ourselves now. Whether one is Native American or not, the value of that message is at the core of this celebration of independence day.
Of course a celebration like the one in Arlee wouldn’t be complete without people selling jewelry, t-shirts, trinkets and of course food. The food at these events is everywhere. Colorful shaved-ice carts attract lines of kids in the heat of the day, and food vendors lure visitors with everything from Teriyaki and fried rice to fried oreos.
One of the high points of the Arlee Celebration for me is getting to eat Indian tacos and ribbon fries. Indian tacos are essentially an open-faced taco or tostada on Indian fry bread. Spicy beans and ground beef, tomato, lettuce, grated cheese and red onion served on piece of fry bread. Fry bread is a fluffy, deep-fried pastry similar to a Mexican sopaipilla. It’s delicious.