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Indian presence huge at National Folk Festival

BUTTE, Mont. – The National Folk Festival recently held its 71st event. The festival lasted three days with six performance stages, more than 250 musicians, dancers and craftspeople from throughout the country, and huge crowds. The Native American presence was seen and felt throughout with many events featuring Montana’s Indian people.

“It represents the culture of Montana and that can’t be interpreted without including Native Americans who are a big part of that,” said George Everett, event director. “This year, with the theme being the culture of the horse in Montana and the American West, we decided to open the festival with a Native American horse parade limited to horses and riders who reflected the culture of Montana’s tribes.”

The opening ceremony at the National Folk Festival was a horse parade featuring people from Montana’s tribes.

That was the kickoff to events that covered several square blocks of Butte’s business district. Some of the stages were set under huge tents and others were in the open in undeveloped lots amidst the buildings and massive steel head frames where miners were once lowered underground to work the copper mines in Butte’s early days. Estimates place the crowds at 115,000 to 125,000 over the three days, up considerably from the 75,000 estimated in 2008.

One of the festival’s highlights was the First Peoples’ Marketplace with 19 Indian artists from throughout the region exhibiting and selling their work.

Monte Yellowbird Sr., who goes by Black Pinto Horse, was one of the artists. He is from the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, but now lives in Great Falls, Mont. He does ledger art and bright, bold oils on canvas.

“I use expressionary colors and incorporate that with Native American icons to develop a style that’s very unique,” he said. “Everything I do is very story oriented, so that adds a little more light to the historic information as well.” By the end of the show he’d sold work to people from Germany, France and South Africa.

“This is a fantastic show. The turnout’s unbelievable. It’s absolutely wonderful; I’m having so much fun,” said Angela Babby, the first to show stained glass mosaics at the Indian Market in Santa Fe. “This is the biggest booth I’ve had and the people are fabulous. They really take care of you here.”

Babby is Oglala Lakota, enrolled at the Pine Ridge Reservation, but now lives in Billings, Mont. She works with stained glass in mosaic form and is largely self-taught. “After the first one I wanted to have more detail in my works, so I started to enamel some glass pieces to make them look more like paintings. When you enamel you paint it with a paint that’s like a glaze so it looks like a glass on glass tile that’s been fired in a kiln.”

The general comment from the artists at the end of the festival was that it had been very successful and they plan to return again next year if possible. Frank Finlay, Salish-Kootenai, was one of those. He sold to people from France, Italy and Chile.

“We will have a First Peoples’ Marketplace again next year,” Everett said. “There’s a jury that evaluates all applications, but there’s no application fee and there’s no booth fee, and we provide an honorarium for the Native American artists. There are guidelines on our Web site starting next month and they can apply.”

The Indian influence was seen, felt and heard throughout the festival, like when North Bear, a Northern Plains drum from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, performed; and it was seen when Elsie Ground, Blackfeet, set up a tipi in the traditional way to show people how it was done.