By MHA Times Staff
On Friday, Feb. 19, the MHA Tourism department held the Traditional Songs of the Upper Missouri social gathering at the Johnny Bird Veteran’s Memorial Hall. The gathering drew a crowd of over 100 people, who attended to sing, dance, honor the elders, and simply enjoy the music.
Charlie Moran acted as master of ceremonies for the event. Each song averaged fifteen singers and drums as the crowd danced around the memorial hall’s gymnasium. Several booths were set up in the building, selling coffee, shirts, jewelry, and displaying information for Nueta, Hidatsa, Sahnish College.
To start the evening’s event, singers began with several warm up songs. The singing and drumming rarely ended, unusual for such an event as singers are typically allowed time to rest their voices.
At one point the music came to a pause for the honoring of some of the elders whom had been invited to the gathering. The honored were given a star quilt and a jacket with the name of the event, date, names of those honored and invited, and the sponsors. Those who received the gifts were some of Fort Berthold’s elder singers who remember many old songs and the old ways of the MHA people.
“Fort Berthold is known for songs,” stated Charlie Moran. “You notice a lot of these guys came and really tuned into these old guys that were singing. They wanted to learn them. Seen a lot of tape recorders. They wanted to learn these songs. That’s what it’s about, teaching these younger guys to enjoy themselves.”
“My father, John Sitting Crow, was a singer and he passed away when he was a young man,” said Susan Hall. “And the people they’re honoring, I know my dad sang with them.”
Following an honor song for the elder singers, there was a brief giveaway of monetary donations and blankets. Afterwards the elder singers and younger singers performed together for approximately 30 songs, lasting over two hours with the elders taking center stage.
The event was very big on singing and drumming but it was also for anyone who wanted to dance. Contests held included a Potato Dance, in which two dancers held a potato between their foreheads and danced to the rhythm of the drum and also danced to the instructions of the emcee. Though there were no potatoes on hand, dancers made due with Styrofoam cups.
Dancers were also invited to dance a Push Dance. The dance is a ladies choice dance where the woman leads and is a two-step dance of two steps forward, one step back.
Near the end of the event the invited singers, such as Terrence Brown, Gerred Red Eagle and other respected singers, were welcomed to take over song choices to end the evening of singing and dancing.
Among the singers in the center table were brothers Michael and Eddie Spears, stars of movies such as “Dances With Wolves” and “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” respectively.
“My brother Michael was an invited singer here, so it was an honor to come sing and to hear all these old songs that I’ve never heard before,” stated Eddie Spears. “It was a learning experience for me to come over here, always been treated well by the Three Affiliated, everyone around here and I have adopted family here. So it was good to come see them, even better to come and sing with everybody. That drum always brings everybody together. It’s always a good time. So it was an honor to be here and I look forward to coming back.”
“This evening was very successful,” said Jason Morsette, special projects manager for MHA Tourism. “A lot of people showed up from all over, including locally. And the visitors pulled through by making it over here. There’s really no word on how to explain on how you feel on something like this meaningful.” Morsette continued, “You could feel it. Everybody was saying thanks, it wasn’t about the money, it was about the respect that the people showed to come.”
The event was sponsored by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, MHA Tourism, 4 Bears Casino and Lodge, and the Nueta, Hidatsa, Sahnish College. The Traditional Songs of the Upper Missouri event is now planned as an annual event and will likely be held in the North Segment.