POLSON — Ken Camel walked behind his brother, Marvin Camel, to put a world championship boxing belt around his brother's waist once again.
When putting the belt on, Ken said, "You've put on some weight."
An emotional Marvin looked up and let out a big laugh. "No, the belt shrunk."
At long last, the champion and his belts were reunited once again.
"I'm back," Marvin Camel said after a big sigh.
Camel, 69, was reunited with his IBF and WBC cruiserweight title belts on Wednesday evening at the Kwataqnuk Resort in Polson. The ceremony brought a boxing journey full circle for one of the most decorated athletes to come from Montana, who accomplished something we might never see again.
"It's the cumulative nature of it," Ken Camel said. "He talked about where the fight comes from. It comes from the soul. It comes from the soul. (Our) parents went through a lot but they persevered and that is what's inherent in him."
In front of friends and family, emotions were high as Camel was given his belts back.
Camel became boxing's first Native American world champion in 1980 when he defeated Mate Parlov in Las Vegas for the WBC cruiserweight belt. After a draw against Parlov in 1979, Camel's win in 1980 made him the inaugural cruiserweight champion of the world. He went on to become the inaugural IBF cruiserweight champion in 1983 with a win over Roddy MacDonald.
"What I did in my life with the boxing, the people I fought, and I felt that with God's help, that I'd become the first world champion," Camel said. "I'm from here in Montana. Small reservation. Of all people to do what I've done at that point in time was unheard of. You're talking people from New York, Chicago, the big cities. But Ronan, Montana? The Flathead Reservation, you are the people who made this happen. You are the people who gave me the drive to make this happen."
After winning both titles in the 1980s, Camel's belts, and his dance regalia, were stolen from him over 30 years ago. However, last winter the belts were found in Missoula in a car that was about to be crushed in a scrapyard, and they made their way back to Camel's family.
Ken Camel retrieved the belts and spent months refurbishing the belts, designing them with Native American embroidery.
"It's been eight months in the works to try and get the thing to where it looked like a belt, but I found a weightlifting belt and it looked just like a world championship belt. So I said huh, halfway done," Ken explained. "So then I started scraping on the metal on the belt to get the rust off. You see how weathered it looked? Right? But I want it to look weathered because it says it's been somewhere, says it's been on a journey."
The COVID-19 pandemic postponed Marvin's return, but eventually he made his way back to his home state from Florida, where he currently resides. His family threw him the reunion ceremony, which featured a drum group that performed while Marvin and Ken danced after they exchanged the belts.
Patricia Kelly, Marvin's sister, was overjoyed to see her brother get what he earned back in his possession.
"Now the thing that we were doing tonight is putting things back together," Kelly said. "Tonight was a ceremony for our family, our tribe and for Montana. I couldn't be more proud of him."
With about 25 people in attendance to watch the ceremony, Marvin reminisced with his siblings Ken and Patricia as well as another sister in attendance in Helen Camel. The group joked about their time as kids growing up while everyone else listened.
Also among those in attendance was Kevin Wroblewski, a former semi-pro boxer who hails from Browning originally but currently lives in Butte. Wroblewski grew up a fan of Marvin's, and made the trip to Polson with his two sons, Eli and Ethan, who are also boxers.
Eli presented Marvin with the first belt, his IBF cruiserweight title, while Ethan walked around to show everyone in attendance the WBC title.
"The rush and the excitement just brought me back to when I was a kid," Wroblewski said. "And I thought, 'Man there's Marvin,' and the boys (said), 'There he is dad.' They love him just as much as I do which is pretty cool. This is just an honor and a blessing and a spiritual moment that I'll never forget."
Marvin's pride and gratefulness to his family and community was on full display.
He thanked everyone there profusely for their support, as he explained his pride of being a Montanan who accomplished these championships, but more importantly, a man from the Flathead Indian Reservation, who represented his tribe, and from a small town, took on the world, and returned a champion.
"When I received this belt," Camel said of his WBC title during his speech. "It was not for Marvin Camel. It was for the state of Montana, the Flathead Reservation and the world. It was a long climb, it took 19 years to achieve a feat that had never been done before by a Montanan, by a Native American.
"You're my people, and I'm your people, and that's the way it's going to be until I die," he said.
For the one who stole his belts in the first place those many years ago, Camel's message is one of forgiveness.
"It's unfortunate that it took an issue like this, a function like this for me to come home again. But I tell you what, whoever took the belts, I have no animosities," Camel said. "If I see you and you said that you were the one who took it, so be it, because they're back with me now. You threw them in a place I think where you knew they would be found, and I thank you for that. I don't thank you for taking them, but I thank you for putting them in a place that they could be found."