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Talking with Legendary Pow Wow MC Dale Old Horn

As part of our ongoing series—interviewing some of the top pow wow announcers of today—we asked Dale Old Horn, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer—for his point of view on what it's like to MC major pow wow events. One such event, the 93rd annual Crow Fair celebration and pow wow this year, on Aug. 18-28, is one of the major pow wow events of the year.

“A celebration of our way of life,” says Old Horn, describing the massive and inspiring Crow Fair, an annual event that takes place at his home, Crow Agency in Montana.

Celebrating the American Indian life describes the countless other pow wows that Old Horn, 65, has announced all over the United States and Canada in the 42 years that he has taken the mike, since 1969.

Old Horn has announced at such big time pow wows as Schemitzun in Connecticut, Denver March, Red Earth in Oklahoma City, Seminole Fair in Florida, and Julyamsh in Idaho.

“Seattle, Boston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Hollywood (Florida), Edmonton, Toronto and many others in between,” Old Horn says. “I have announced rodeos in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming, Florida, Connecticut and many others.”

Over 100 years ago, Crow Indian leaders organized a gathering of the six Crow Reservation Districts to perform the arts and display the culture, and they invited other tribes. Bringing together the native people of the Great Plains was no easy task during the early days, the Crow Fair web site points ou

Q: Can you give us some background on the Crow Fair?

“Crow Fair was established in 1904 by Crow Agency BIA Supt. Reynolds to showcase the completion of the assimilation of the Crow Indians by showing the world that they have been transformed into farmers-a U.S. government policy stemming from the General Allotment Act of 1887. When the world press arrived to witness this event, the Crow Indians astutely surmised that the BIA could not stop Crows from practicing some of the native culture. They knew that the world would not approve of the subjugation measures that the U.S. government had employed. So they brought out the Big Drum and they sang and danced. The Indian Agent later brought in parading and the Crows once again took advantage by wearing native regalia, which had been previously outlawed by the U.S. government. Before this the Crows had to hide from the U.S. government to practice their native culture. And so today we honor our ancestors by continuing the tradition of that ‘giant family reunion under the Big Sky. There is spirituality involved when I’m announcing, but that is private information that is within my Announcing Right,” he said, referring to the ritual that must be passed through in order to hold the responsibility of announcer for the people.

Q: Could you please explain more about the Crow Fair being “a celebration of our way of life?”

"The celebration of our way of life is predicated on the very visible expression of our native beliefs in our ceremonies and rituals that are prevalent at Crow Fair. The people appreciate powwow because it contains the expression of native beliefs in spirituality. Perpetuation of native culture by practice is paramount."

Q: How did you come to have the honor and responsibility of becoming an announcer? Were you given instruction by a predecessor, for example?

"I was 'discovered' by the Director of the Custer Battle Re-enactment in 1969. Since the Crows must be afforded the Right to be an Announcer, my father took me through the ritual of the Announcing Right from him. My first stint at public speaking at the age of 23 was as a narrator and it grew from there to pow wows, rodeos, horse races, radio sports play-by-play, inaugurations, banquets, assemblies of Indian Leaders and so forth. At this time I’m explaining Federal and State Law on Indian Water Rights in the Crow Language."

Q: What do you enjoy about emcee-ing? Some say that good jokes have their place at a pow wow, too.

"I enjoy most instilling pride in the native people regarding their native cultures, including beliefs and language. And yes, well-placed and appropriate humor is appreciated by all. Bringing respect and honor to give-aways is also a large part. Teaching the relevance of the powwow in the overall scheme of the native cultures is one of the most important duties of announcing."

Old Horn is married with two grown children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandson. He has three brothers…and they all emcee.