Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
May 20, 2000 - Issue 10

With Spring Comes the Powwow and Renewal
by Storm Reyes Tribnet

In momentous times for Indian tribes, traditions bring hope for a happy tomorrow.

The past month has been significant in Indian Country. The immeasurable loss of a greatly respected leader, Joe De La Cruz. The resumption of the whale hunt by a Makah family, bringing renewed conflict between natives and non-native peoples.

And a push to ask again for a pardon for an imprisoned Native man, Leonard Peltier, whose humanity has been forgotten as both supporters and detractors rally toward the symbolic cause he has become.

And yet, I find my mind wandering away from these events as my eyes stray to the blue skies. I watch the renewal of all things around me as spring settles in to stay. Even in the grief of acknowledging what has been lost and the conflicts that continue, there is a sense of anticipation of what is to come.

I watch Mother Earth coming to life again, new buds appearing on bare, stark tree branches, a splash of color in a seemingly barren patch of land, the flash of small wings seen out of the corner of my eye.

There is a new smell in the air and a new feel to the breeze. I am reminded that there is no end, only a continuation of life and each day a new day. And I am reminded of the need for renewal.

Soon is the time when the native peoples gather together, almost a spring migration. We call it powwow, but it is so much more. Peoples from over 100 nations are drawn to the multiday campout events. In the campgrounds, tepees and RVs are established side by side with tents of canvas or nylon; some sleep with no tent at all.

Long before the powwow officially begins, the sound of drums is in the air and the smell of burning sage tickles the nose. The singers around the large drums are warming up, practicing or just singing for the pure joy of it. There is an air of excitement as we wait for the Grand Entry when all the dancers will enter the arena for the first dance.

Then the groups of dancers take to the arena. First the tiny tots, some jumping up and down in excitement, some intent on dancing properly around the arena. Mothers, fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sisters dancing with babies in their arms.

Next, the women shawl dancers, twirling and whirling, so light-footed you'd swear they weren't touching the ground at all. Then men's fancy dancers and grass dancers, who combine athletic strength with incredible grace. Later into the night come the women's traditional dancers, most in their deer or elk skin dresses, long fringes hanging from their arms almost to the ground.

The stately procession of women moving slowly together, in time around the arena emulating the movement of a breeze on a field of tall grass. And last, the men's traditional. Some wearing bustles of eagle feathers, each representing the traditions of their nation and showing us centuries-old dance and hunting movements.

In between the groups are the intertribal dances, where all peoples join in to dance together, and newcomers to powwows are encouraged to listen to the heartbeat of the people, the drum, and share the joy of the dance. All ages, all sizes, wearing regalia or jeans, all dance together.

A Friendship Dance is called ,where each person has his or her hand shaken and is welcomed to the gathering. An Owl Dance is called, the only time men and women dance touching each other. Honor dances are called for the veterans, for those who celebrate sobriety, for those who have come out to dance for the first time in regalia, for those with a special need.

Always the drums can be heard and the singers' high voices wailing the songs of the centuries and the songs of today. The smell of baking salmon, fresh frybread, fresh berries in the air. Friends and family sharing together the losses of yesterday and the conflicts of today and the hopes for tomorrow. The people gather, and we are renewed.

Storm Reyes writes once a month as a guest columnist for the Perspectives page. A resident of Tacoma's East Side, she claims Puyallup Indian heritage.

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