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Fort Belknap's Mid Winter Fair: Celebrating 50 years of Resilience through Tradition


February 7, 2018

The Grand Entry is a time of great pomp and pageantry. Surrounded by classic regalia and group drumming, even the youngsters find a way to express their heritage. These little girls, from a past Grand Entry at the Fair, showed their fancy regalia and demonstrated their dance moves.

Last week's fair was the 50th anniversary of the Fort Belknap Mid Winter Fair. The annual winter event was first staged in 1967. Ed Doney, who's been actively involved with the fair since 1987, wrote about 'why' the winter fair was organized. In a visit about the Fair he explained, "Some folks who had jobs that involved calling on people in their homes, discovered how much original native art was being done but no one ever got to see the art." Early on the Fair was a way to showcase the variety and amount of art that locals were creating. At the first Fair in 1967 there were 168 exhibitors and 2500 attendees who came to enjoy the inaugural fair.

In a 2015 story in the "Journal," Allie Young, a long time member of the Fair's coordinating committee, also recalled, "The idea of a winter event was initiated by some ladies from Lodge Pole who saw the Fair as a way to deal with 'winter cabin fever.' The fair changed over the years, as any long running event must to survive, from a focus on art and culinary creations to a more recent emphasis on youth and family. Still, many aspects of the Fair remain essentially the same as in the early days.

After 20 years, according to Ed Doney, the fair waned for a 'few months.' That was 1987 and Tribal Extension Agent Don Addy, Joanne Healy and Ed Doney met at Tuckers Pizza to jump start the Mid Winter Fair again. Ed and Joanne served as co-chairs for the newly formed Mid Winter Fair (MWF) committee. Others were added to the committee over the years. Doney wrote, "Our spouses and children all helped us with every area of the MWF and we could never have survived that long without the support, sacrifices, and help of our mates and family members." Doney and Healy chaired the winter gathering for the next 20 years.

In 1992 the Fair reached its 25th anniversary. That year special recognition was given to the original coordinating committee members: Jeanette Warrior, Dora Helgeson, Francis Plumage, Margaret Cole, Minerava Allen, Josephine Johnson, Mabel Bradley, Catherine Halver, Agnes Longfox, Mattie Turntoes and Cecelia Lankford. Special recognition was also mentioned for Fort Belknap Extension Agent Mrs. Grace Miller who was active with the Fair from the outset and stayed involved for 30 years.

Baby contests have been a part of the Mid Winter Fair for many years. This year, (l-r) one-year old Azlyn Weston and two-year old Wastena Crawford visit briefly after they finished the babies' competition. They were busy checking out the prizes they had won. Organizers said 13 babies were entered this year and "every one of them was a winner." During the first twenty five years of the Fair more than 100 babies won ribbons.

It was noted that during the 25 years of the Fair, "...over twenty-five thousand exhibits have been viewed by an estimated twenty thousand people. Some fifteen thousand ribbons have been awarded and over 100 babies have won baby contests. More than 50 guest speakers and over 30 Native American princesses have been honored at both local and national levels during past fairs."

This year's 50th Fair, as always, had a few new activities. Families were encouraged to prepare exhibits showing family histories and accomplishments. One interesting exhibit was a time line done by local students. The students interviewed adults about their memories of the Fair, then summarized the quotes on the timeline from the very early fairs to more recent ones.

On Friday afternoon the youth carnival drew kids who were enjoying competitions appropriate for different age groups. As always, the Grand Entry Traditional Pow-Wow events were exciting and colorful. And like any fair, the Mid Winter Fair has its special 'fair food'-cheesy fries seemed to be one of the crowd favorites.

The "Journal" salutes the coordinating committees, volunteers, individual donors and business supporters that made the Fair a success for the past 50 years. Doney put it well when he wrote, "Good Luck to all future MWF committees and people of Fort Belknap. This fair belongs to all of us and we need your continued support. Thanks." Here's hoping for another 50 years of successful Mid Winter Fairs.


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