CARSON CITY, Nev. — The annual Stewart Father’s Day Powwow began the evening of Friday, June 16, with a beat of the drum as the floor filled for the grand entrance.
Native American dancers transitioned from standing to spinning and dancing until the arena transformed into a swirl of colorful bead work, feathers and face paint.
The powwow — taking place June 16-18 this year — has been held annually at Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada, since 1982. The 110-acre campus comes alive with over 200 dancers and more than 40 different food, arts, and craft vendors every year during Father’s Day weekend.
“The powwow brings people to this beautiful campus to share its history and also its future,” Sherry L. Rupert, Executive Director of the State of Nevada Indian Commission, said in an interview with First Nation’s Focus.
According to the Stewart Indian School website, the school served as the only off-reservation Indian boarding school in Nevada from 1890 through 1980, and its stone buildings are an icon of education and life for many Native Americans in the West.
In 1985, the school was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District and is currently managed by the state of Nevada.
“Through the powwow, we welcome the alumni and their families home,” said Rupert. “It’s a special time to have everyone come back home. We welcome all to campus to learn about its history.”
Stewart, being one of the very few Indian school campuses still intact, has always been open to the public. Everyone is encouraged to visit the school, native or non-native, to learn about the Native American culture.
Tribes come together to share and keep their traditions alive and to pass them down to the next generations at the Stewart Father’s Day Powwow.
“I started dancing as a little boy here at this powwow almost 30 years ago,” said Martin Montgomery, of Dresslerville, Nevada, who attended Friday’s Grand Entry ceremony. “To be asked to be head man is an honor.”
To be head staff means you are recognized as a leader in the powwow community.
“Being selected as head staff is an honor because it a position of respect,” said Francine Tohannie, Head Lady of Fallon, Nevada.
The duties of head staff are to lead the categories in which you dance, as well as being the first to enter and the first to exit the arena during grand entry.
Most head staff host a dance special and/or hold a giveaway as a means of expressing thanks to the community for honoring them with the position.
Dances have always been a very important part of Native American culture. Most dances seen at powwows today are contemporary dances, which might have had different meanings in the past.
Although some of the contemporary dance styles may have changed over the years, their meaning and importance has always stayed true.
“I dance for the people who can’t,” said William Koipa, Head Teen Boy for the 2017 Stewart Father’s Day Powwow, of Fallon, Nevada. “I dance for my ancestors, the little ones and everyone in general. I feel strong and I feel powerful when I dance.”
The three-day-long event (June 16-18) was filled with family, friends and community members who gathered to watch the dancing, listen to the singing and eat amazing food.
“What I enjoy most about the Stewart Father’s Day Powwow is how it’s a good hometown powwow,” said Montgomery.
The tradition of holding this powwow on Father’s Day weekend has been ongoing and will continue for the years to come.
“There is a connection to this historic site,” said Tohannie. “We come to celebrate the Indian School — the good and the bad of it.”
Jarrette Werk is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and works for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus. Email him at email@example.com.