Madison Murphy Barney
Regalia patterns and beadwork, such as this hairpiece on display at the United Tribes International Powwow in 2012, are often created with respect to family and tribal history. (DeAnne Billings)

Julie Cain, right, stands with her daughter, Sonja, and grandchild at the United Tribes International Powwow in 2012. Cain is the first-ever chairwoman of the powwow, a position she has held for four years. (DeAnne Billings)

Colorful powwow regalia was traditionally created by women, but now many tribal members participate in the creative process. This feather bustle was worn in the men's fancy dancing category. (DeAnne Billings)

Families such as Julie Cain's often dance together at powwow and pass down regalia from generation to generation. (DeAnne Billings)

Julie Cain has been participating in powwows for the past 50 years. As soon as she could walk, Cain began dancing and sewing.

"I started as a little girl. My mother taught me to sew and I have been sewing ever since," says Cain, a member of the Blackfoot tribe. "I also had a lot of teachers and a lot of elders from my tribe that taught me things."

Powwows are a creative process from start to finish, and nobody knows this better than Cain and her family. Cain makes powwow regalia, while her husband creates traditional artwork and tans hides for use in dresses. Cain's grandsons dance in powwows across the region.

"It was our knowledge of Native culture that brought my husband and I together," Cain says. "We do surrounding powwows throughout the year and go home every year for North American Indian Days in Browning, Montana. It is important to our entire family."

Cain not only creates regalia for powwows but is responsible for organizing Bismarck's well-known annual gathering. She is the first-ever chairwoman of the United Tribes Technical College International Powwow, a position she has held for the past four years.

"Unfortunately, I don't get to dance in this one because I am running the events," Cain says.

The planning process takes a full year. Cain and her team begin planning the next powwow almost immediately after the closing ceremony. The United Tribes International Powwow, which will be held at Bismarck's United Tribes Technical College campus September 10-13, hosts

around 75 different tribes from the United States and Canada.

"By the time it comes we are all ready for it, and it almost runs itself," says Cain, who also serves as the UTTC Chemical Health Center director. "For United Tribes students it is a time that we can all unite as students. It is like our reunion. I just get so excited."

Years of creating regalia prepared Cain for rigorous planning. Cain is well versed in creating diverse, complex clothing. Before she had children and grandchildren, Cain could create a traditional dress in a week if she worked on it every night. Now, however, she has slowed down and the process can take several weeks. Her tradition of spending evenings crafting regalia is part of a much larger tradition by women.

"Traditionally quill and bead work was done only by women," says Emil Her Many Horses, associate curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. "Elders used to make a living off of this ... (but) a lot of people get involved in the process of dance regalia now. Traditionally, there was an understanding that men did art for recounting war deeds, but women were free to create."

The formation of tribal identity through regalia began many years ago. Native American women belonged to quill and beading societies, and some tribes monitored creative work and endorsed styles and designs.

"A lot of the designs came from dreams that women had," Her Many Horses says. "The woman would interpret the dream through bead work and then present it to the group and explain why she had created it this way."

Powwow regalia tends to have a long lifespan and is passed down from generation to generation. Some pieces last many years and are added to over time.

"If you are known as a good artist, you are representing the community with your designs," Her Many Horses says. "Regalia is often handed down from elders, and it is an honor to wear something made by your grandmother, for example."

The creativity surrounding the powwow has been a draw to Cain since her mother first put her in front of a sewing machine. Regalia is often designed to express an identity. The pieces are worn with pride and care.

"Regalia starts out with tribal identity," Her Many Horses says. "The technique and design show where you come from."

Cain also creates traditional dolls, one of which is featured in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Through powwow participation, Cain continues to instill the importance of tradition in her children and grandchildren.

"We are all brought together by powwows," she says. "Every part of the process is important to us."

Learn more about the United Tribes International Powwow at

Madison Murphy Barney is a student of international relations, international studies and communications at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. She is a Bismarck native who is obsessed with her siblings and seeing the world.