Annual Social Powwow is Saturday

Statesman Journal

March 15, 2007

Willamette University's fifth annual Social Powwow will bring together members of tribes from Umatilla to Grand Ronde this weekend for a powwow that is both social and sacred.

The Salem event's master of ceremonies, Bob Tom, is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

Tom said powwows are a chance for tribal members to visit and practice dancing, drumming and singing.

It's a bit like a big family reunion, he said. There are powwows every weekend all over the West.

"This is a continuous way of life for us," he said. Tom estimates he has attended more than 20 powwows per year for the past 35 years.

Saturday's event also is a chance for newcomers to experience a powwow.

People of all cultures are encouraged to come to the gathering, said Gordy Toyama, director of multicultural affairs at Willamette.

The school's Native American Enlightenment Association puts on the event, which has attracted more than 1,000 visitors in past years.

"People who have never been to a powwow before are sometimes worried about doing something wrong," he said. "This is a great opportunity for non-natives to come, see and experience a powwow."

Powwows feature traditional dancing, songs, drumming and vendors, who sell artwork and foods such as fry bread.

The main event, however, is the dancing: The men's fancy dance, women's traditional dance, owl dance and blanket dance all will be performed. Each dance has its own regalia, drumbeats and history. At a powwow, you'll see skilled dancers as well as little kids just starting out, Tom said.

"It's one of the oldest instructions: We were instructed to continue dancing, to continue singing, and to bring our kids up to know about the dances," he said.

As host, Tom's job is to announce the dances and keep the audience informed.

He will be helped by David West, who serves as an arena director. He's a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, with Miami and Kickapoo heritage.

West must be available to make sure the dances are going as they should and to organize mid-powwow ceremonies.

If an eagle feather is dropped, the arena director decides whether to do the Plains or Northwest style ceremony to pick it up.

In addition to watching dancing, listening to drumming and admiring dancers' regalia (costume is not the proper word), this powwow offers opportunities for everyone to participate.

Respecting rules and traditions of the powwow is important, Toyama said, but people should feel welcomed to participate at appropriate times. One opportunity is the popular round dance, in which attendees gather in a circle.

"When we say it is an intertribal dance, we really want people to come down," Tom said.

One powwow element not to be missed is the opening grand entry. It will be at 4 p.m. Saturday

"The grand entry is always so special," Tom said of the moment when the tribal's elders, veterans, flags and dancers in regalia enter the gymnasium.

Tom said a powwow is best appreciated by a respectful, inquisitive mind.

"Be friendly," Tom said. "It seems like the more we know about each other, the more we're able to appreciate each other."

mtheriault@statesman or (503) 399-6743

Theriault, Michelle. “Annual Social Powwow is Saturday.” Statesman Journal 15 Mar. 2007. 22 Mar. 2007