July 11 @ 8:00 am July 14 @ 5:00 pm

North American Indian Days, an annual celebration and the largest and most impressive of Blackfeet tribal events, hosts Native Americans from every region of the United States and Canada. Featured events include traditional drumming and dancing contests, the crowning of Miss Blackfeet, a parade, fun run, PRCA Rodeo events and more.

North American Indian Days Campground

59417, Montana 59417 United States + Google Map
View Venue Website
  • Posted on: April 11, 2024

A Young Father Finds Purpose In Family, Culture and Community Action.

Western Native Voice works year-round to inspire Native leadership so our communities flourish. We are excited to share with you Western Native Voice Community Spotlight. It’s designed to highlight grassroots organizing and individuals creating change from across Montana and in Indian Country.

This month, we would like to introduce Brandon Fish of Great Falls. He is Amskapi Pikuni and an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation. Brandon has spent many years community organizing and advocating for several causes affecting indigenous people in the U.S. and Canada. He currently works for the International Traditional Games Society.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Okii Nitaaniko Atsimpieta pokaa, I am an enrolled member of the Amskapi Pikuni ( Southern Peigan) one of three tribes in the Siksikkaitsiitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy). I descend from a long line of chiefs, warriors, medicine people, and knowledge keepers ranging from Fish Wolf Robe, Littledog, Many Hides, and Weasel Tail. I have three children; my youngest son, Ohmak kiestu-mim, my daughter Itsiinuaki, and oldest son Iniskim tsakomapii.

My mothers are Philistine Running Crane, Georgianne Fish, Verna Fish, Cleora Little Yellow Kidney and my fathers are Donald Peter Fish, Gabriel Running Crane, Aloysius James Fish, and Merle Yellow Kidney. I was born in Missoula, Montana, and was raised by my mom Philistine in my infant years. From what my mom has told me, we lived as a family group with my mother being the second oldest and my uncle Goobers being the oldest, along with my aunt Roberta Running Wolf, Phillip Many Hides, Jenny Many Hides, Bernard Red Tomahawk and Janet Red Tomahawk. My family was formed like this because they were orphaned at a young age. We moved from Missoula, Montana and lived in Las Vegas and then moved to Portland, Oregon. As a child one of my fondest memories was being carried on the shoulders of my eldest brother, John Red Tomahawk, and walking with my sister Alberta. We would hop a fence and go berry picking in a nearby orchard and munch on those vines for hours on end.  It was at the age of six I believe, that I would meet my nina Donnie, who lived at the foothills of the backbone of the world. It was during this time when I started to really become connected and unknowingly more aware .

I was around the age of 9 when I started my journey on the red road in the sun dance lodge and continued to learn the inner workings of different lodges. When I was younger it was about getting through the fasting, but as I got older, it was about the people and where the extra prayers  and suffering was needed. From this, I learned how to suffer for the people we love.

Through these lodges, I had the opportunity to know and love the teachers that took me in and showed me what it was to be a human being in this world we live in. My adopted lodge parents Merle Yellow and Cleora Yellow Kidney played a significant roll in the songs, prayer, and guidance I needed to keep going on with this life.

Tell me about your role models.

I would always look to my Nina Donnie for strength and guidance. My Nina saved my life in so many ways but also taught me compassion, humility, and unconditional love. My sister Alberta gave me a lot of inspiration also…she had my back the most and plus we had a similar upbringing. I could talk to her about anything and she encouraged me in my life but also cussed me out when I needed it…when I was being a knot head. I miss that.  Most of my siblings are gone now. My older brother hung himself, my younger brother died of a fentanyl overdose, and my sister Alberta died from malpractice. My family has been going through a rough transition with all this loss. They all were instrumental in providing me guidance in my life. Terrance taught me that family is what it is all about and any man is beatable as long as you stand your ground. My brother Fish taught me that the only life that is worth living is one that is free of fear. 

“Through these lodges, I had the opportunity to know and love the teachers that took me in and showed me what it was to be a human being in this world we live in.”

Brandon and his family.

Tell me about your traditional and non-traditional education.

I went to grade school in Great Falls, when I was seven or eight and then jumped back and forth from Browning to Great Falls and then back to Browning. It was just a mess with parenting plans with who wants to have the kids etc. Eventually I ended up running away when I was 17, and I went to Missoula where my girlfriend lived. I sought this as an opportunity to leave the dysfunction in my childhood. I ended up moving in with my sister at the age of 19 in Arizona to get away from all the issues and trying sort out my emotions in my life. I ended up staying there until I was 22 years old.

While in Arizona, I got to experience a different culture with the local Dine’ tribe. I got to see how familiar they were with their language, customs and culture. I felt ashamed because it wasn’t like that back home. Yes, we kept what we could hold on to but it wasn’t as intricate as them. They made fun of me for not knowing my language and even my own people and relatives would shame me.

I went to Blackfeet Community College and received my Associates in Criminal Justice a the age of 27. During this time in my life, I was going through a terrible divorce and my adopted parents were tremendous in helping me transition out of it. Wishy and Verna geared me toward a better way of thinking and helped me get through college. I can’t thank them enough for stepping up when I felt as though there was no one else.

This push and drive helped me get through the University of Montana where I studied Native American Studies and Environmental Studies. I graduated in the Spring of 2020 at the height of the pandemic, and well…nobody showed for that. So I guess it wasn’t too much of a loss. (laughs)

Can you talk about community involvement?

Growing up, I was lead by my nina and we were involved in a camp called “return of the buffalo camp”.  My family would go to the mountains every year and camp out and have ceremony. I was involved with that as a kid and would see our family and people from all over the world come to the camp. I would gather wood, be the fire man, or rock man and would eventually join the men in their responsibilities when I was older. A lot of my community work ethic came from that time in those lodges…being a cook, setting up the lodge, learning how to set up teepees and helping without asking. This is how I learned to function in a healthy community. My family tried to instill those values in me. 

What inspired me to be more involved, was when I went to the prayer camps at Standing Rock in 2016. I lived in that camp for about a month. Being there was an experience that would be a catalyst of what I did thereafter. Being in that large of a camp and it being a community of prayers, gave us hope. I believed that this is how you heal your people to have courage. I heard the words  “we are praying for you”, “we want you to see what you are doing”, “think about your children”, “we love you”.  I saw the pipes raised and smoked for all the people that the water gave life to and it gave me a sense of purpose. I look at all those memories and I can see how much one person can move a movement. I experienced deep compassion and love for our people and our ways of knowing and survival, and of how we want to live. We want to live in a time where we don’t have to fight…fight on a daily basis.

I was part of the Montana students for Equality Initiative at the University of Montana. We worked on it for a class and it went a lot farther than I expected it to go. It started when, as students, we went on a tour of a place called the Chippy house in Butte, Montana. It was a place where native women would get raped and murdered. The tour guides, when telling us this history, made it sound like they wanted it, they wanted to be whores. Chippy was a coded wording and an explicit language that was used to cover up the way our people in all tribes were treated during the relocation to ghettos and war camps. The city of Great Falls tried to remove the Chippewa  people, because they are a reminder to what they could not kill. So they stole our women and children and killed our men and brought them into those mines. After a generation of rape, murder, and cover up, we are still wondering where our people are that have been missing for years. 

I had a bad reaction to that place after hearing the jokes that were said and laughed about, see the women’s clothing stuffed away in the entrance of what they call the chippy house. I heard that the State of Montana had known about this place. I saw the pieces of our past come together…I started hearing women crying, children screaming, pleading for help in that place. I felt like souls of thousands of our people passing through…speaking out for help. I internalized this and know we had to do something. So we held five Truth and Reconciliation meetings with the University of Montana, Silver Bow County, Butte Historical Society, Little Shell Chippewa members, University of Montana Provost, students, administrators, and the presidential cabinet. We asked Little Shell families that knew the stories. Our stories are very, very, important. If they are going to talk about our history then they need to talk to us about our perspective. I am still very salty about this whole experience but it also taught me a valuable lesson. Keep persevering and stand your ground.

I was also an officer on Voices for Change, Rez Edition. We saw how George Floyd was murdered in front of the country. Some local kids and others staged a protest on Juneteenth. We marched and chanted and showed our signs and talked about what this means to us and what we want to do in the future. We invited the college, the BIA, and different candidates and asked them to come out and speak and listen to what the kids had to say. 

We also held a community feed and voiced our opinions on what we wanted to see with our tribal council. The Voices For Change also protested the strip mining of Napi’s playground. This area is located in Crows Nest Pass. The Nitsitapi utilized these areas for thousands of years with fasting and cultural sites. 

Along with another group from Canada, the Nitsitapi Water Protectors, we conveyed our message to support our northern brothers and sisters to protect our mountains and waterways.

In Great Falls, we developed the “Remember Us, We Are Still Here” movement after we saw that 250 children were re-discovered at Kamloops Alberta residential boarding schools. We started this event with a group of three people. At one point we had over 40 people at one meeting, which then tapered to a core group of 10. We marched and expressed ourselves with over 200 people showing up. We had veterans, Heart Butte high school, Krazy Dog Society, Little Shell tribal members, and a community of support pushing back the agenda and opening up meaningful conversations for our future.

Would you consider running for office?

Yes, it has crossed my mind. Many of the policies that are in place don’t benefit Native people, such as the Major Crimes Act and Indian Civil Rights Act. However, I hold myself back from running because I worry about who will be taking care of my children if I am gone all the time. I have responsibilities both culturally for my community and for my family. Who would take my place in my absence to love my kids and be there unconditionally for the people?

What are you doing now?

I currently work for the International Traditional Games Society (ITGS). Since June 2022, ITGS has advocated and developed an event called the Gathering of Families 2023. A unification of many grassroots organizations have been called upon and have developed partnerships, initiating a movement toward a healthy, and organized way to celebrate indigenous people through the Gathering of Families 2023.

On October 8th – 14th  2023, ITGS will celebrate with a powwow, art shows and galleries, have events such as indigenous education, film, entertainment, and a traditional tournament style of gaming.The grand finale will be an indigenous-themed parade in downtown Great Falls. 

Historically, traditional games have always been a vital part of our teachings and in our knowledge. ITGS is offering a healthy solution to our youth and anyone who wants to learn our ways of understanding. Meaning, we evolve back into our ancestors with the changing of times…the ways in which we approach youth development matters because of how much this world has bred an environment without identity. We need to be that change that is needed in our world by coming together to celebrate cultural exchange and to offer healthy solutions to this identity crisis.

In the first year, we hope to lay the foundation to be able to host the World International traditional Games Olympics. That will co-align with the World Nomad Games in 2026. ITGS has formed partnerships with the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, First Peoples Buffalo Jump, Montana United Indian Association, the Great Falls Public Schools Indian Education Department, Alliance for Youth, Montana Children’s Museum, Charles M. Russell Museum, the Square Art Museum, Montana Department of Commerce, Montana Department of Tourism, State Tribal Economic Development Commission, Visit Great falls, Helena Indian Alliance, Little Shell Cultural Director, Western Native Voice,  Seattle based organizations,  Mopistaan Four Directions and the Washington United Indian of all Tribes Foundation. 

We are still seeking sponsorships for the Gathering of Families event. Support will be needed by all tribal nations for this to be a successful event. You can contact me at Itgslead@outlook.com for more information.

What is one change you would want to see in your community within the next five years? 

I would like to see the city of Great Falls have equal representation and rights for indigenous people. I would like to see the school district re-evaluate how its treating indigenous people. I would like to see our city officials, county commissioners, and state officials educate themselves on treaty rights and state and federal responsibilities when it comes to education and the lateral violence that is being used against our children.

Trials, Tribulations, Strength & Perseverance

Western Native Voice works year-round to inspire Native leadership so our communities flourish. We are excited to share with you Western Native Voice Community Spotlight, designed to highlight grassroots organizing and individuals creating change from across Montana and in Indian Country.

This month we would like to introduce Alissa Snow. Alissa got her start in Montana politics registering voters as a community organizer for Western Native Voice. She soon after became the State Field Director and Montana’s first full-time Native woman lobbyist. Alissa helped to create, pass, and implement state law that protects the culture of Montana’s Indigenous people. She played an integral role in passing historic Native healthcare legislation and helped to increase voter participation across Montana’s tribal nations.

Here is her story in her own words:

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Alissa Snow. I am an enrolled Blackfeet member. When someone asks me where I am from, it’s complicated. I answer by saying I live in Missoula but grew up in Browning and Fort Belknap. My mother was enrolled in the Blackfeet tribe, and my dad is Gros Ventre from Fort Belknap. 

Where did you go to school? What was your childhood like?

Because my parents were from different reservations, I would start the school year in Browning and finish it in Fort Belknap. Although I had good grades in school, I didn’t have a good support system at home. Growing up, I started spending more time with my mom in Browning. She was a single mother for a long time before she got remarried. During that time, I had to deal with homelessness and her addiction issues, but I was happy as long as I was with my family. That is how it was, and I didn’t know any different. I had two children by the time I was 17 years old and was almost doomed to repeat the same thing. I ended up dropping out of school. I was a very shy person, very quiet, and a stay in the background type. But then, things changed when my sister got her GED, and she told me to get mine. I didn’t even know what a GED was or why I was getting it, but I got it because she told me to. After I learned what it was, I realized this was a huge step and that I did a good thing. I became proud of it. That was the first time I realized I could do something. 

Who were your role models growing up?

I didn’t have a lot of role models growing up. But, when I turned 18 and moved to Fort Belknap with my dad, he wanted to get his degree, so he enrolled in tribal college. He encouraged me to sign up even though I didn’t have a plan, and I wanted to start working on a better life for my kids and myself. I put my whole life in school work at that time while my grandmother watched my kids. My dad and I were both going to college at the same time, and I received good grades. I wanted to go into social work, and it seemed like it fit because I liked to help people. Then, one of my instructors encouraged me to switch to computer applications. 

My dad and I ended up graduating together. The tribal college magazine did a story on us. He was top in his class, and I was 2nd in my class.

My two daughters are currently pursuing higher education at the pace that works for their busy lives. I don’t pressure them. I let them figure out their passions and work toward their dreams all on their own. They are following in my footsteps. I couldn’t be more proud!

Tell us about some of the roadblocks you faced.

In 2003, I felt myself getting stuck in the cycles of addiction and alcohol, so I moved to Missoula. I stayed with my relatives until I could find a place to live. I didn’t have a vehicle or a home. But it was some of the best times because I got off the rez and got away. The possibilities seemed endless there. 

In 2008, I started taking classes for nursing. There were so many things I wanted to do for work, so I did a little bit of everything. In my 2nd semester, my mom passed away from overdosing on pain pills. I had younger siblings, and I had to take care of them. I had a  trip planned to Disney and ended up taking them all. I wanted to show them that there was so much more out there. It showed them a different kind of life. At that time, I had to withdraw from school. It would be the first of many times. After a while, I went back and went into social work. It took me a long time to graduate, but I finally did in 2016. School should be at your own pace because we lead different lives. We shouldn’t feel like we are obligated to finish in a certain amount of time. 

I had to stop going to school for so many reasons: funerals, addictions, taking care of kids. Going to school was something I did when I had time. We should always prioritize our family and our health. 

Tell us about any volunteer projects or offices held that you are proud of. How did you get started?

As my confidence grew, I became more involved in my second year of school. I sat on the Head Start committee. Then, someone nominated me for student council Vice President, and I ended up winning. I didn’t even think anyone knew who I was. But, it gave me even more confidence. That year, I was chosen to go to DC to lobby for tribal college funding. I was 20 yrs old, and I had never been on an airplane. I had never even left the state in my life, and I ended up flying by myself. I didn’t know what I was doing. Luckily some nice ladies from the Crow tribe took me under their wing, helped me get through the airport, and showed me the ropes. When I got to D.C., I met with people and told my story. It was then that I realized I had a voice, I had a story to tell, and I could help other people. That experience taught me that I could overcome my fears. I felt that If I didn’t do it, no one else would. I felt an obligation to do it. The feeling of accomplishment helped me grow, and I realized that I am capable. 

When did your life start to change?

In 2014, while living in Missoula, someone sent me a job description for Western Native Voice. I applied for a community organizer position even though I was still afraid to talk to people. I didn’t even know what it meant to be a voter, so I learned from scratch. I had to believe in it myself. This change maker was the beginning of who I am today. 

I became the first Native woman lobbyist in Helena, and it was empowering. 

I then became the field director, where I ran the Native vote program, where 70% of my job was on the road. I went to every reservation in Montana. Later, I was offered an opportunity to work for the Fort Belknap tribe, and helped open the first-ever public relations office, and helped with legislative issues. From there, the Democratic party reached out and asked me to run the Native vote program. I was nervous at first, but I had a great team and a lot of support. 

Why is it important for young people to get involved?

No matter how old you are or where you live, policy impacts us all. Young people need to think about what changes they want to see in their communities. We need to teach young people to see the connection between voting and the issues that matter to them and their future. 

Our young people need to understand that the people we vote into these positions are making decisions for them. They need to vote for someone that cares about the best interest of Indian Country. 

What are you doing now?

I am currently a policy analyst and lobbyist for Fort Belknap. A co-worker and I also decided to start a business, Red Medicine, LLC. We work to build political power in Indian County by getting out the vote. Our goal is to break down important information and make it understandable to people back home. Once you get involved in this work, it becomes your life. 

Do you see yourself running for higher offices in the future?

I have been asked to run, but I am not in the place to do that yet. I am working at building a voter base right now and am happy being in the background. When I decide to run, my three options are the state legislature, a country commissioner or election office, or a tribal office. 

Tribal government needs to be involved in state government. It’s hard to get tribal leaders to pay attention. I would like to see each tribe hire a lobbyist/policy/analyst/organizer and get the community involved as well. My empathy is strong for my people, and going back to the rez isn’t always easy.

I want people to want more for themselves.

What changes would you like to see in your community within the next five years? 

My vision is to have Native vote turnout higher than the rest of the state. I want to see more Natives walking the halls in Helena.

I want our people to make voting a family tradition.

Access to healthcare is what drives me, so I want to leave behind a world where our people don’t have to choose between paying rent, paying doctor bills, or being able to go to the hospital when they need to.

Any last words?

When I get asked about my work, how I got where I am today, and what drives me, I always, ALWAYS, start from my childhood. I lay out a long timeline of trials and tribulations, strength and perseverance, and I am candid about addictions and issues that aren’t always my own but impacted me just as much. Everything I have been through, good and bad, has helped me become the person I am today. I have very few regrets because every single experience was a learning experience, and I’ve learned to make my own silver linings.

I just want people to know that I’m not trying to get sympathy, nor am I trying to make anyone feel bad, guilty, or embarrassed. What I’m hoping comes from the sharing of it all, the highs and lows, is that someone else will be inspired by it, not feel bound by generational cycles or other people’s low expectations. 

We all have the potential for greatness within ourselves, no matter our start in the world. And it’s never too late to realize that.

Stepping Up Through Volunteering

Western Native Voice works year-round to inspire Native leadership so our communities flourish. We are excited to share with you Western Native Voice’s Community Spotlight, designed to highlight grassroots organizing and individuals creating change from across Montana and in Indian Country.

This month we would like to introduce Renee LaPlant, Blackfeet tribal member, volunteer, and regional organizer for Western Native Voice. She is a descendant of Sadie Crow Chief, Eli Guardipee, Bad Old Man, and Mountain Chief. Renee graduated from Browning high school and has an AA in Criminal Justice. Renee has 5 children and also loves spending time helping to raise her many nieces and nephews.

All my life, I always had to work and step up when asked. Now, I see the need and it’s something I just feel like I need to do. So many people just need some extra help and doing this work can take a huge load off of their backs. Now, I bring my kids and they are learning to step up as well.

Tell us about your current job.

I have been a community organizer for Western Native Voice (WNV) on and off for about 6 years during the election seasons. My mom always made sure we got involved in voting. I have been voting since I was 18 years old. My nephew used to do this work years ago, and he was very good at it. I was afraid to do this work but saw how he was so successful at it and he inspired me. If I hadn’t seen his confidence, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. This job has helped me gain confidence and I have learned so much with this organization doing this type of work. It can be very intimidating at times working on the ground without a lot of supervision.

What motivates you to do volunteer work?

I remember looking out my window one day and it was so cold out. I saw a 10-year-old child walking down the street with only a blanket on and others had seen it as well. I realized no one was going to step up and help. So many people say they are going to help or want to, but when it comes time to help, they don’t show up. I had a calling to step up.

Did you have someone teach you about volunteer work?

I saw my mom always help others when we were kids. She took us to ceremonies. All my life, I always had to work and step up when asked. Now, I see the need and it’s something I just feel like I need to do. So many people just need some extra help and doing this work can take a huge load off of their backs. Now, I bring my kids and they are learning to step up as well.

What other types of volunteer work have you done or are doing?

We had a big winter storm 4 years ago when everyone was stuck at home. I started volunteering at churches, handing out Christmas presents, firewood, and food. I also became involved with the church pilgrimage to help people come back to God through a 12 step program.

What is your current project?

Dr. Cora Neumman, founder of We Are Montana (WAM), started gathering donations from her home. She really set this whole thing off and it took on a whole life of its own. We had planeloads of donations coming in during the cold weather. Angel Flight West donated their time and fuel to help our community as well. I know it’s impacting our community and it’s giving people (our volunteers) something to do with their time…they feel like they have a purpose. To see them smiling and happy to do the work is enough to make sure I keep pushing to finish this massive effort. The project has grown so much in the past couple of months that we need more volunteers to fold, sort, and distribute the donations.

A holiday and winter supply load was delivered safely to Blackfeet Nation via Angel Flight West. Coats, winter clothes, PPE, toys, art supplies, cleaning supplies, and more to help keep families safe and warm during the winter months, and to support those facing loss and hardships due to COVID. (Pictured with Renee is Dr. Cora Neumann, founder of We Are Montana)

Who were some of your mentors as a young child?

My mother. She did her best to provide for us. She always worked and put so much effort into making sure we had what we needed even though she struggled at times. I always felt valued and protected. She also furthered her education while raising us and now has a Masters’s in Social Work.

Who is your mentor now? What have you learned?

My friend and mentor is Mona. I was recovering from a serious addiction when she came into my life. She made sure I had a goal to meet and something to finish. First, she taught me to sew, then she taught me to be patient with myself and to relax while sewing. This easily transferred over to other parts of my life. Because of this relationship, I’ve also learned to pray and try to see things in a different light. She came into my life during a very difficult time for me and having this trusted person in my life who would give me advice and help me with a simple smile and conversation was priceless. It’s not always easy to find a mentor. But it’s a really good thing. You have to seek one out in places that you don’t expect. Find someone who you can trust. It took me a while to find one I could trust.

Did you ever run for any local/state offices?

People always tell me to but I haven’t. I might run for Blackfeet Community College board or housing board someday.

What’s holding you back?

I am planning on going to college and keep having to put it off because of time. I have four kids under the age of 18 in my house and then there is COVID-19 and working 10 to 5. I would like to go to MSU Northern to get a Bachelors in Criminal Justice this Fall.

What would you tell someone who wanted to get involved? How do they get started?

There are always church events, come and volunteer with us. It feels intimidating but we learn to carry that with us sometimes. We are okay to do these things, we have fear and just need to take that first step which is the hardest. Set a goal and take that first step. That is the thing you have to do. I was so afraid to go on the pilgrimage when I first went. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to go, now I don’t care, I just walk right in. It builds confidence, just do it.

What is the most rewarding cause/project you have been a part of? What did it teach you?

The pilgrimage. It taught me to be responsible for my actions, to take responsibility for what I do, and to ask God for forgiveness, and to move on and do better in the future. It taught me to treat people better. I am not as judgemental as I was before. The pilgrimage is a journey back to God through the Catholic church. It’s unique to Browning and is a way to recover from addiction. I knew that when I did the pilgrimage 4 years ago…I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Where change do you hope to see in 5 years for your community?

I want our focus to be to protect the innocent ones and to give support and have services for people who are seeking recovery from addiction. I want to see our children grow up in a positive environment. We need to focus on the kids and make sure they grow up with positive role models. I want to be one of those role models.