UM Anthropology Student Carries on Native Heritage at Student Pow Wow

UM anthropology junior Cailei Cummins, a member of the Crow Tribe, will serve as head woman dancer at this weekend’s Kyiyo Pow Wow. The Kyiyo Native Student Association has provided a sense of community and home to the Lodge Grass native.

MISSOULA – For University of Montana student Cailei Cummins, a member of the Crow Tribe, the decision to enroll her junior year at the Missoula campus was perhaps the biggest step taken in her young life.

Transferring from Little Big Horn College, the Lodge Grass native had never spent much time off her reservation and the move came with great trepidation about leaving a place she loves. And then there was the sticky business of forgoing college at nearby Montana State University, where many of her family had graduated.

“Bozeman doesn’t have the kind of anthropology program that I wanted to enroll in,” said Cummins of her decision to become a Griz.

Despite her determination to forge her own path, the first few weeks at UM were a culture shock for Cummins, who said she noticed few Natives on campus.

Picture of Cailei Cummins as a child
Cummins grew up participating in powwows with her family. 

“I was kind of going crazy and I called my mom one evening, and she suggested I go to the Kyiyo meeting that day,” Cummins recalled after learning about UM’ s Native American student association. “Oh my gosh, it was so good to see other Natives and to meet them and get advice for living in a city. 

“Kyiyo,” she adds, “has definitely made me feel at home.”

Now the secretary of Kyiyo, Cummins will serve as the head woman dancer for this weekend’s Kyiyo Pow Wow. The powwow, now in its 53rd year, brings participants from across the county and is dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of Indigenous history and culture.

“Several of my relatives have served as head woman for powwows back home,” said Cummins, adding that her mother is preparing her regalia, and the family plans to travel to Missoula for the powwow.

 “They are pretty excited for me,” said Cummins.

For her part, Cummins will help organize volunteers and lead the powwow.

It’s a big job, said Gisele Forrest, an administrator in UM’s Native American Studies program and a co-adviser for Kyiyo.

“We have more than 100 people volunteering for the powwow,” Forrest said. “For students this is often the first time they’ve organized such large groups. We’re excited to work with Cailei and the Kyiyo officers on this year’s event, especially after two years of not having the event in person.“

Professor Mizuki Miyashita, director of the linguistics program in the Department of Anthropology, got to know Cummins in two classes.

“Cailei brings valuable insights from a tribal point of view to class,” Miyashita said. “It is very important and much needed.”

As for her future, Cummins plans to pursue a master’s degree in archeology. But the reservation and the people who live there will always be a part of her life.

“I really can’t picture myself living off the reservation. I see myself going home,” she said. “We all have a responsibility to take care of our culture, language and traditions because our ancestors did it for us.”

The 53rd Annual Kyiyo Pow Wow will be held in UM’s Adams Center. Grand entries will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, April 22, and noon and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 23.


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,