CROW AGENCY - It's easy to say a celebration started off with a bang. A little more original, though, is how the 91st annual Crow Fair Pow-Wow began.
With the bang of a drum, a stomp of the foot and the twirl of a shawl, Thursday kicked off the nearly 100-year-old celebration of Crow culture and tradition.
"It's kind of an overall community gathering," said Larry Blacksmith, Crow Fair manager. "It's families from all over the country getting together here, whether it's yearly or for the first time."
While the event is a yearly celebration for the Crow people, it draws participants and spectators from all over the world. Blacksmith said he's taken calls from families in Isreal, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Lucia Earl-Mitchell didn't come from overseas, but it was her first time at Crow Fair. Earl-Mitchell came from Washington state with her cousin and eleven children to compete in the pow-wow's dance events. Members of the Puyallup tribe, they travel the Pacific Northwest to dance at powwows.
"For us, it's just traditional," she said. "We're traveling, meeting other natives and representing our tribe."
Organizers expect several thousand people to attend this year.
Crow Fair began in the early 1900s as the Crow Tribe's way of life changed, Blacksmith said.
"It essentially developed so Crows who were developing into farmers and ranchers could get together and show their wares and celebrate their cultural aspects," he said. "Now we try to bring back a lot of the Crow cultural ways with it."
Those traditions include long-established dances, drum groups and contests, all of which began Thursday night with the Grand Entry, which featured a military flag guard and dozens of dancers from across the country in full regalia.
Even before the dancing began Thursday night, plenty of locals and visitors were doing their best to have a little fun. Along the Little Bighorn River, more than a dozen kids whooped and hollered as they jumped off the banks and rocketed down a makeshift slide along a muddy embankment into the water.
"You get to have fun and dance around," said D'Alan Rogers, 10, of Crow Agency. "Right now there's swimming, there's people in their dancing clothes and you might hear them speak some Crow."
Upholding the Crow language is a point of pride for many tribal members, and something they look forward to during the powwow. While his twin daughters, 9-year-olds Bethany and Burdine, prepared for the Grand Entry, Burton Pretty On Top Sr., said events like Crow Fair are a good way to impart the old ways onto a younger generation.
"This is the time for us to celebrate life and life within our culture," he said. "We have a living culture and there are few tribes that still speak their language."
Whether it's a visitor or tribal member, the event has a special significance for many who attend, Blacksmith said.
"Somebody asked me earlier this year if I was ready for Crow Fair," he said. "I said, 'You're never ready for Crow Fair because Crow Fair is a happening and it's got a life of its own.'"