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the powwow trail as I know it

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  • the powwow trail as I know it

    The powwow trail as I know it

    I can’t exactly explain why I like to powwow so much. Call it an addiction I’m a fiend for, as I search for the next biggest and best powwow to hit. Call it an itch I can’t scratch, no matter how hard I try. Powwows are like the boyfriend I may never have, always there for me on the weekends when I need ‘em, fun, and inspirational.
    Every time I go to a powwow, the mere sight of the campground, dance arbor, and numerous people excites me. For example, this past August, I went to Fort Hall, Idaho for the Sho-Ban Festival. A softball tournament, rodeo, handgame tournament, 3-on-3 basketball tournament, and the powwow took place all weekend beginning Thursday. All who came to the festival had a good time. There was something for everyone. At a bar in Pocatello called the Green T, the sign on the building welcomed the Sho-Ban Festival, so there was even something for those 49’ers too.
    I’ve gone to some pretty neat powwows this year, beginning with the Denver March Powwow. Then, from there it was to Spokane, Bozeman, Kyi-yo, Gathering of Nations, North Idaho College Powwow, Eastern Washington University Powwow, Fort Washakie, Arlee, Elmo, Julyamsh, Rocky Boy, Fort Hall, Crow Fair, Spokane Riverfront, and United Tribes Powwow in Bismarck, North Dakota. Some of the powwows were small, with small payouts, small turnouts, and even small Indians. Some of the powwows were so massively jam-packed with people that at times, it was hard to get from point A to point B without being totally swallowed up in the traffic of people. Sometimes, it was hard to believe that there are really that many Indians alive in this country.
    There are certain things I like about powwows, but it is mostly the people I enjoy. I’m a huge fan of people. All kinds of people interest me, especially Native people. I always like to observe, obtain data through questions, and draw conclusions. Call it the science of powwowing or the study of the modern Indian, to me, it is all fun. The differences within Native people alone are astounding. Every tribe varies in the way they explain life, the Creator, and world, which gives each tribe a distinctive culture. If there are this many differences within Native people, I can’t imagine how many distinctions lie between other nations of people.
    There is a lot to learn at the powwows. Every tribe runs their powwow(s) differently and have their own ways of doing things. Some powwows make you sit through a million giveaways, honoring everyone from the next-door neighbor who lent them money to get them through a hard time to honoring a favorite rez dog (just kidding). Seriously, though, it can get WAY out of hand. Some powwows have grand entries on the last evening of the powwow for no points just to make people mad, I guess. Some powwows I’ve been to run through contests and have everything done by midnight. Some powwows have feasts, give out free water to dancers and singers, and have parades. Either way, powwows are always a good time to simply see, meet, and get to know people.
    A lot of these big time dancers know everyone and that is why they are big name dancers. A lot of politicking goes on at powwows so much these days that the dancers may as well run for Powwow President, if there were such a thing. The powwow world is almost like it’s own underground system of people networking. Yet, at the same time it isn’t. Many of these dancers have known each other for so long that they can’t remember the first time they met. Dancers have married other dancers and produced dancing babies. Dancers and singers have hooked up and created hybrids that can dance and sing. Some of these dancers and singers had parents or grandparents who met at a powwow.
    Powwowing is a relatively new thing to Native culture, but its popularity among all Native people, even those who never powwowed in the past, is soaring. I have seen so many changes in the outfits, the singing, and even the MCs. Take, for example, the Navajo. Their people in the past didn’t powwow, but nowadays, they rule the powwows. Some of the best dancers are Navajo. They’ve revolutionized the powwow world with their fancy designs and shiny fabric that is only available down south. Then again, there are so many of them that it hardly surprises me that one out of those thousands of Navajo can dance.
    A lot of powwowing and dancing has to do with the look. The better a powwow and dancer looks, the better. Grass in the arbor that feels great on the feet complete with shade for the spectators wows the eye. Little kids being paid by the bag to pick up trash to keep the powwow clean is a usual sight. As for dancers, the look has to be completely perfect from head to toe. Beginning with the head, not a hair is out of place, which leaves me stumped and wondering what kind of products they use. The face is usually good looking, with maybe some war paint (men) or makeup (warpaint for women). A lot of the male dancers who win have a warrior look, complete with dark skin and long braids. Female dancers have a look to them too that sometimes screams, “Straight out of the history books.” Either way, dancers are beautiful and all have their own look. I guess it is mostly about originality and personality. The more a person is comfortable with him or her self and confident in their abilities, the better a dancer they are. Oh yeah, practicing helps too. Dancing as a workout, is like one of the best workouts a person can do. Dancing one song is like sprinting hard for 3-5 minutes. Now, there is a way to combat obesity in Indian Country!
    I don’t think some dancers practice though. With all the kids they have and traveling they do, I bet most of the really good ones are just in shape from dancing at a powwow every weekend and chasing their kids. However, some of them most likely do run, lift weights, and/or play sports to stay in shape. Dancing is pretty hard. However, anyone can do it. Even if you suck, you’re still more than welcome to dance at the powwow. It just seems that white people are more eager to accept that invitation than most Natives I know. They get out on the dance floor and try to copy the dancers and…well, we all know its funny, but at least they are having fun as they bounce crazily to a beat that no one else hears.
    I don’t think it is ever too late to start dancing or powwowing. Anyone and everyone are welcome to at least go to these gatherings. You don’t have to be invited or anything. Besides, spending money to go to the next powwow is a lot better than spending money to go to the same bar every weekend and seeing the same sorry people. I would rather see the same sorry powwow bums every weekend rather than the same sorry drunks. Then again, that is just me.
    When I was growing up, all I ever did was dance at powwows. When I got older, I thought running around the powwow seemed more fun, and it was for a while. Then, reality set in. The reality of powwowing is that the powwow’s heart and soul is the dancing and singing. The beauty of the powwow was not found at 49s or walking a million laps around the powwow. However, I had to learn all of that the hard way. The real beauty of the powwow is all of the positive energy and thoughts of dancers and singers joining together for a weekend, working harmoniously to provide a spectacular sight for all to behold.
    One day at class, my abnormal psychology teacher asked me how I relieve stress and I told him, “I dance at powwows.” He replied back to me, “So, there is a pervasive stress in your life that dancing at powwows on the weekends relieves?” I said, “Yeah, I guess.” I wanted to add that the pervasive stress in my life was that white people have overrun the land that is supposed to belong to my people and powwows help me forget that for at least a weekend, because I see nothing but Natives. Plus, even if there are white people there, they are like the macaroni in a boiling pot of meat and it feels good to outnumber them in at least one place in the world. At a powwow, it feels great to be Native.

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