SHERIDAN — The All-American Indian Days, held between 1953 and 1984 in Sheridan County, included a church service for anyone interested. The Miss Indian America pageant contestants and others have contributed to the service in a variety of ways, from welcoming guests from the community to participating in the service and integrating multicultural and multilingual elements.
Similar to the interracial harmony premise of All-American Indian Days, the church service served as an interfaith gathering.
“Although St. Peter’s and my father led the way, I’m pretty sure that at least over time more churches got involved, and certainly the preachers (Ray Clark asked to preach) weren’t not all Episcopalians. They came from all faiths and all different tribes,” Ray’s daughter Sandy Clark Kolb said.
Kolb grew up in Sheridan and her father was Ray Clark, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for 39 years. Clark organized the church service from the start until the pageant departed and traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota.
Clark would hold an early communion service at 7 a.m. at St. Peter’s and cancel the main Sunday service encouraging all to worship at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds.
“I know his philosophy was that people who pray together stay together,” Kolb said. “That was a big part of that.
“Today people would look at this and say, ‘You had a Christian service, you know, in a secular event,’ but it wasn’t that unusual back then,” Kolb said.
Kolb said his family often hosts visiting clergy and the family remains heavily involved in several elements of All-American Indian Days.
“He would find a preacher who belonged to the Native American clergy,” Kolb said.
Other artistic elements were also included in the service. Brummett Echohawk created the image of a brave Indian standing in prayer and holding a peace pipe that became the cover of the service’s programs.
Echohawk was quite interesting, Kolb said, having served in World War II and was “quite decorated.” He went to the Art Institute of Chicago and became a cartoonist for newspapers in Chicago and later received places in galleries in the Midwest. Kolb did not recall his father’s connection to Echohawk, but surmised that father Peter Powell — another All-American Indian Days full-time volunteer serving as a judge for the Miss Indian America pageant for several years — may have had a connection with him, because he is from the Chicago area.
Music also played a big part in the service.
The choir director at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was organizing a choir in addition to a performing Crow choir. June Poitras added to the musical and multilingual element by singing the “Lord’s Prayer” with her daughters, who signed the “Lord’s Prayer”. June Poitras also served as a judge for the Miss Indian America pageant, mainly judging the contestants’ cultural knowledge. Diane Poitras, June’s daughter, remembers driving from the Klamath Indian Reservation in Oregon in a station wagon pulling a small trailer to Sheridan.
“Our family has always enjoyed going there and socializing with other people,” said Diane Poitras. “We just enjoyed the multicultural aspect of it all.”
The Poitras family continued to attend and participate for several years until the celebration moved to Bismarck, North Dakota.
Although not as common today, the All-American Indian Days church service served as a reaffirmation of the multicultural and multilingual celebration for everyone involved.
Ashleigh Snoozy joined The Sheridan Press in October 2016 as a reporter before taking on the role of editor in November 2018. She is originally from Colorado and graduated from Biola University in Los Angeles.