My introduction to powwows was North American Indian Days in Browning, Montana in the 1970’s. At the twenty-first annual event in 1972, my father, Dan Antonietti, was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe and named an honorary chief. That was, and still is, a big deal.
My Dad worked for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Manpower Administration. In his role as Project Officer for the Bureau of Work Training Programs, he was instrumental in securing monies and programs for the Blackfeet people. To honor and thank him for bringing Neighborhood Youth Corps and Operation Mainstream to Browning, Pete Stabs by Mistake named my father A-pi-na-ko Si-pis-to (“Morning Owl”) in a touching ceremony nearly forty-one years ago.
A Southern-Piegan Indian named Na-to-si (“Sun”) was awakened one morning at dawn by the hooting of an owl. After he fell back to sleep, the owl came to Na-to-si in his dreams and told him to give the name “Morning Owl” to someone he loved. When Na-to-si awoke, he remembered his dream. He called to his adopted son and said, “From now on, your name will be A-pi-na-ko Si-pis-to.”
I have attended other powwows since then. In 1991, Rich and I took our boys to their first powwow. Colin wasn’t walking yet, so he and Rich watched as Eric and I moved to the rhythm of the drums and joined the “All Dance.” We modeled traditional dance steps as best we could, foregoing any attempts at fancy dancing. Had Chief Morning Owl been in Missoula to watch us that day, I think he would’ve been proud.
I thought about Chief Morning Owl as I watched the dancers and listened to the drummers. In 1979, Dad’s work changed when he moved to the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. As I sat in the Big Sky gymnasium that afternoon, Mom and Dad were nearing the end of a trip to Washington D.C. The previous week, Dad had attended the National Legislative Service Committee meetings as Montana’s legislative chairman for the VFW. Eighty-five years old, he’s still championing for the rights of others.