Performers dance in the Adams Center during the grand entrance to the Kyiyo Pow Wow on April 21, 2018. The pow wow, which typically hosts nearly 5,000 people, was scheduled for April 17 and 18 this year.

The annual Kyiyo Pow Wow was canceled for the first time in more than half a century due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Montana’s Kyiyo Native American Students Association announced over social media Friday, March 13 they the event were canceling without any intention of rescheduling it.

“While we are saddened to make this decision, we feel this is the safest and best action to protect our community,” the statement read. “We are deeply concerned about the health and safety of all our visitors and participants, and especially our elders, who are most susceptible and at risk.”

Montana declared its first COVID-19 cases within the state later that day.

The powwow, scheduled for April 17 to 18, typically hosts nearly 5,000 people in the Adams Center, including up to 1,500 dancers and drummers. Marcos Lopez, Kyiyo’s president, said the student group’s officers voted on Thursday to cancel the event.

“We knew we would have to make a decision in the coming days and weeks,” Lopez said. “It’s hard. This is months of work that the Kyiyo student group has put into this.”

The group canceled its contract with the Adams Center and refunded vendors who had paid for spots, according to Lopez. He said announcements from the CDC and other powwow cancellations informed its decision.

The Denver March Pow Wow in Colorado and Gathering of Nations in New Mexico were scheduled for the coming month. Both were canceled due to COVID-19, according to their websites.

Montana State University’s American Indian Council also canceled its annual powwow due to COVID-19, according to a press release. The event would have occurred a week before Kyiyo.

The Kyiyo Pow Wow holds dance contests for all ages in categories like traditional, fancy and jingle, as well as singing contests for drum groups. Lopez said the group canceled the event once more than 20 years ago due to conflict with ASUM, but ended up hosting it that year.

This year, 2020, would have been the 52nd annual Kyiyo Pow Wow.

Next year’s Kyiyo Pow Wow is scheduled for April 16 to 17, 2021 in the Adams Center.