New tradition taking root at annual Arlee Powwow Celebration

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Every July, the beat of the drum, the chants of singers and the pounding of feet in the dance arbor reverberate throughout the Jocko Valley. The reason: the annual 4th of July Powwow Celebration on the Flathead Reservation, the social and cultural highlight of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribal people of the Flathead Nation. Singers, dancers and their entourages as well as visitors from throughout Indian Country, the nation and some international folks flock to the colorful event to witness how the tribal people celebrate their traditions and culture as well as the American holiday of independence.

This year, a new tradition took root at the celebration. For three days during the 116th Arlee Powwow Celebration, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and education leaders on the Flathead Reservation partnered with spectrUM to host a Science Learning Tent. Under the big tent, children of all ages extracted DNA, engineered flying machines, and learned about the exciting opportunities that await them in higher education and STEM careers.


The spectrUM Science Learning Tent featured a different theme each day: health sciences, ecosystem science, technology, engineering and innovation. Local STEM and higher education role models, “near-peer” high school interns, and spectrUM educators led the activities and guided demonstrations throughout the event.

Highlights of the Science Learning Tent included an exhibit featuring the first-ever Native American satellite, which will be launched next August on a NASA rocket, as well as a Family Astronomy Night featuring stargazing, astronomers, telescope activities and popcorn.

All together, the Science Learning Tent at the 116th Arlee Powwow Celebration served over 2,000 youth, who learned from and were inspired by the 50 community members who served as educators and STEM role models.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for the University of Montana to come to the powwow,” one community member said.

“We’ve never had anything like this for the children,” said another adding, “I’m amazed.”

Our favorite responses came from the kids: “Will you be here tomorrow?” and  “Are you coming back next year?”

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The partnership that generated the Science Learning Tent recently garnered an honorable mention in the Noyce Foundation’s Bright Lights Community Engagement Awards competition. The distinction honors spectrUM’s innovative collaboration with educators and scientists on the Flathead Reservation.

spectrUM and our community partners wish to extend our thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Arlee Celebration Committee for their support and commitment to promoting STEM opportunities and higher education. spectrUM is also grateful to our Community Advisory Group, who envisioned the Science Learning Tent and tirelessly worked to see  it through. We are especially grateful to Bernie Azure, Cindi Laukes, Stephanie Gillin, Whisper Means and Dr. LeAnna Muzquiz.

To see more local news coverage of spectrUM’s Science Learning Tent at the 116th Arlee Celebration check out the following stories: