Powwow honors fathers and the past while improving the future | NevadaAppeal.com

Powwow honors fathers and the past while improving the future

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Al Phoenix, 75, a traditional dancer from Pyramid Lake, has been dancing for 65 years even though he spent 21 years in the Marine Corp.

For the last 65 years, nothing has stopped Al Phoenix from taking part in traditional dances. Not circumstances. Not his job. Not even 21 years in the Marine Corp.

Even at age 75, Phoenix, of Pyramid Lake, still believes it is important to do the traditional dances for Paiute culture and for his family.

“When I dance, I don’t dance for myself but for others, especially for my grandson who is in the Marines,” Phoenix said.

Over the weekend, Phoenix took part in the Father’s Day Powwow at the former Stewart Indian boarding school.

The powwow was held for many years in the first part of the century before lapsing. It was revived four years ago as a fundraiser to restore the museum and cultural center at the old school.

“The building needs new flooring and will have to be staffed year round. We estimate the total cost to restore the museum at about $500,000,” said Sherry Rupert, coordinator for the Nevada Indian Commission.

The Stewart boarding school was established in 1890, and operated until 1980. The museum in the building closed in 2001.

Janet Bryan-Weed, of the Reno/Sparks Indian Colony, came to dance because of the school’s connection to her family.

“All my relatives came here; it’s just amazing the connection to my family,” Bryan-Weed said. “It has a lot of history for a lot of tribal peoples.”

Among the Stewart alumni in Bryan-Weed’s family are her great-great grandmother Juanita Downington-Sampson, who attended the school in 1898, and her great grandfather Harry Sampson, founder of the Reno/Sparks Indian Colony, who graduated from Stewart in 1913.

Deanna Zabel of Dayton hoped to introduce her 2-year-old grandson to his culture.

“We came so our grandson can get some of his heritage. He just loves the dancing,” Zabel said.

The powwow featured more than 150 registered dancers and eight drums from the region.

Rupert estimates more than 3,000 people took part in the powwow over the two days.

“Our families, our fathers and our men are very important so it’s kind of fitting that we hold this powwow on Father’s Day,” Rupert said.

For Phoenix, dancing in the powwow is a great experience, both for him and for his culture.

“It’s about getting people together, gathering the cultures and cultural healing,” he said. “I dance for the elders who are sick and can’t walk themselves.”

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.