Several tribes attend three-day pow-wow
Hundreds of Washoe, Paiute, Shoshone and Cree came from around the West for the “Honoring Our Elders and Youth of Today” pow-wow in Dresslerville on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Dance competitions were held each day with the finals on Sunday. After a barbecue dinner Saturday night, Sunday started with a three-on-three basketball tournament. The grand entry ceremony and dancing started at 1 p.m.
Leading the grand entry was Romaine Thomas Smokey III, president of the Washoe Tribal Youth Council. He held an eagle staff presented by Arnita Goodface Swanson, a Lakota from Lower Brule, S.D. The staff, with a real bald eagle head on top, represented her choosing the “red path” of sobriety 19 years ago.
“It was a great honor to be able to carry that staff,” said Smokey later. “She let me know the significance of the staff. It’s been carried to many different pow-wows all over the country so I was very blessed to be chosen.”
Smokey is a 19-year-old college student who will wrestle at the University of Nevada, Reno, this summer.
During the opening ceremony, a long line of colorfully dressed dancers spiraled slowly into the circle of shade tents more than 100 feet across.
At the front, staffs and U.S. and tribal flags were held aloft. The Southern Express drummers performed the opening song seated around a 3-foot drum.
“We all grew up singing together,” explained drummer Josef Perdiguerra from Fresno, Calif. He competed in the men’s southern straight dance category. He said the lead singer in the group is Thomas Phillips of Wadsworth.
Following the opening song, a Washoe elder made an invocation in the microphone, blessing the elders, dancers and young students then prayed for safe travel for all participants. He urged everyone to lead good, clean lives.
“Fix our blood so it can run through our systems and make our heart beat strong,” he said while hundreds stood in quiet reverence.
The staffs and flags were then secured to the front of the main tent. Across the circle, families and drum groups sat under shade structures watching the dancers and taking turns drumming.
About 150 dancers competed in several different categories, including men and women’s fancy and traditional and women’s jingle dress.
Master of ceremonies Thomas Phillips said the men’s traditional dress varies between northern and southern Plains people. The northern dancers wear a bustle of eagle feathers while the southern wear “conchos,” or an otter-hide drag.
“The traditional dress is the warrior’s regalia,” said Phillips, a professor at California State University, Stanislaus. “It’s similar to U.S. military dress uniform.”
Judges changed every dance session for increased balance and impartiality, he explained.
The “Honoring our Elders” theme for the pow-wow was chosen by the youth councils of the Washoe tribe who organized the gathering, said Richard Cruz, supervisor for youth programs with the California Indian Manpower Consortium.
The four area Washoe colonies — Dresslerville, Carson, Stewart and Woodfords — took part in the planning, he said.
“We said, ‘Let’s all get together and make one big community event.'”