2014 Contest Powwow draws many dancers, spectators

08.28.2014 Dean Rhodes Culture, Events

Before the first Grand Entry for this year's annual Grand Ronde Contest Powwow, Foster Care recruiter Amanda Mercier staffed the Children and Family Services booth on the north side of the big tent.
Mercier did double duty, however, also helping her 9-year-old son, Mason, with the finishing touches as he dressed in his regalia for the upcoming grand entries and fancy dances.
The Contest Powwow, held Friday through Sunday, Aug. 15-17, at Uyxat Powwow Grounds off Hebo Road continued to live up to its reputation as being one of the largest gatherings in the Pacific Northwest. This year, the powwow drew 261 registered dancers and overflow crowds to watch beneath the big tent.
Dancers, depending on age group, competed for first-place prizes valued from $150 to $1,000 in 20 dance categories. Grand Ronde dancers won five prizes in all.
Booths for Tribal police, housing, Fish and Wildlife and many other programs, not all of them from the Grand Ronde Tribe, were set up outside the tent with brochures stacked neatly. People who staffed the booths chatted among themselves, waiting for the first Grand Entry at the start of the weekend. They provided information and answered questions for the powwow crowd.
Among them was Robert Upham, director of Blue Pony Lacrosse, a subsidiary of the Survival of American Indians Association. Started in 1995, the association promotes lacrosse as a sport that offers health and resilience to Tribal youth, as well as creating greater opportunities in sports, art, media and education. It also has been successful, said Upham, for "solving differences."
The program now reaches 2,500 youth in Native American communities. It has provided more than 1,300 volunteer service hours and handed out more than 1,500 lacrosse sticks and equipment.
In addition to the service booths, the powwow attracted 15 food vendors and 51 craft vendors.
Then, it was an amazing start to this 2014 Contest Powwow. Grand Entry on Friday night, scheduled for 7 p.m. as always, saw nearly nobody lined up at the west end of the big tent where Tribal leaders, Royalty and dancers from all over usually congregate.
The opening was pushed back a half-hour owing, said Powwow Master of Ceremonies Edmund Nevaquaya, to traffic jams on the roads leading from Portland.
At 7:25, still just a scattering waited in line. At 7:30, Tribal leaders, Royalty and dancers came in with gaps between groups. Dancers kept coming though, and before they were done dancers closed the gaps and filled the grounds beyond bursting. It may have been the largest Grand Entry ever for a Friday evening.
"How much better can you get for a Friday night?" said Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno. "We're going to have to get a bigger tent."
Dance specials during the powwow included Women's Traditional and Men's Round Bustle. The Education Committee and Education Department sponsored another special. For boys and girls under 18, the dance served "to remind our children that school is cool," said Committee Chair Tammy Cook.
"Our youth education program has a vision of providing a safe, healthy and educational environment that values young people. We help build Native youth into positive role models and leaders of our future," Cook said.
Earlier in the day, Senior Miss Grand Ronde Goldie Bly, Junior Miss Grand Ronde Iyana Holmes and Little Miss Grand Ronde Kaleigha Simi, Royalty for 2013-14, stepped down. Newly crowned Royalty were Senior Miss Grand Ronde Promise Rimer, Junior Miss Grand Ronde Iyana Holmes and Little Miss Grand Ronde Isabelle Grout.
Leading Grand Entry this year were Wayne Chulik and Brenda Tuomi, who carried in the Eagle feather staffs. Former Tribal Council member and Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran Steve Bobb Sr. carried in the U.S. flag while Raymond Petite carried the Oregon flag, Al Miller the powwow flag and Alton Butler the Grand Ronde flag.
Ken Shane, among the dwindling number of living World War II veterans, participated in the powwow as a spectator.
Tours of Chachalu, the new Tribal museum and cultural center, exceeded expectations. At 11 a.m. Saturday, two buses filled with powwow guests took the short ride to Chachalu, said Jan Looking Wolf Reibach, manager of the Tribe's Land and Culture Department.
"It was the first of eight tours over the weekend," Reibach said. "From dozens of walk-in visitors, donations and sales amounted to nearly $1,000 for building the next phase of the museum and cultural center."
On Saturday afternoon, two leaders of an Estonian group that is part of the European Language Equality Network, which promotes and protects lesser-used languages, arrived. In 2012, the group represented 42 language communities in 21 European countries.
The powwow guests, Merit Leht-Smith and Andres Vares, represent the Estonian Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. Matthew Smith, from outside of Yamhill County, married Merit Leht two years ago in Estonia. Now in Oregon, they will marry again before Smith's family.
Leht-Smith and Vares said they count themselves among the Tatarin indigenous people, but Leht-Smith added that within Russian borders Estonia itself is an indigenous group.
"They are very interested in our Chinuk Wawa program as well as the revitalization of our Tribal culture," said Tribal Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor. The group has been in touch with her since September 2013, she said.
It was their first powwow experience.
"We are setting up agreements to meet with Native peoples, share languages and continue ancient traditions," Leht-Smith said. They hoped to make a friendship group with the Grand Ronde Tribe.
"It was a great experience hosting the Estonian delegates at Chachalu," said Reibach. "We shared our respective histories together and their stories are touching."
Once again during powwow, the Tribe's Recreation Program sponsored a three-on-three basketball tournament with two competition categories - seventh through ninth grades and 10th through 12th grades.
Tribal Council members in attendance Friday night and/or Saturday included Leno, Vice Chair Jack Giffen Jr., Cheryle A. Kennedy, June Sherer, Jon A. George, Kathleen Tom, Denise Harvey and Ed Pearsall.
Charles Tailfeathers was powwow head judge and Freddie Ike Jr. was arena director.
Host drums were Young Spirit and Young Bear. The Woodsmen, the Grand Ronde drum, was honorary host drum.
Seventeen other drums also played during the weekend. They were Buckshot, Sho-na-ay, West Coast Boys, Northern Black Horse, Four Directions, Horse Creek, Yellow Stone, Big Eagle, 007, Turquoise Pride, Star Horse, a-nee-na-zee, Red Road Nation, All Nations, Battle Axe, War Pony and Yakama Boys. Host Young Bear came from North Dakota to play this year.
Kennedy, a longtime Tribal Council member, gave the invocation on Friday night.
"The drum is the heartbeat of our people," she said.