Seventh First Nations Powwow draws crowd to Salem Pavilion

01.29.2015 Michelle Alaimo Culture, People, Events

SALEM -- It was one of those January days when the spirits saw fit to spread sun across the fields, push the temperature well into the 50s and send in the kind of soft breezes perfect for smelling the roses.

For more than 1,000 across the Northwest, however, the seventh annual Gathering of Oregon’s First Nations Powwow, “Standing Strong,” held as always in the Salem Pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds, was the place to be on Saturday, Jan. 24.

By noon, when the pavilion’s doors opened, people already were arriving on foot, in baby carriers, with walkers and in wheelchairs. They brought drums and suitcases with regalia inside.

Already in and set up were 44 vendors selling Native clothing and jewelry, dentalia and beads, handmade knives and dream catchers and recorded Native drum songs; all the things that come with powwows and much that has been traded traditionally for thousands of years.

Four western Oregon Tribes – the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Coquille Indian Tribe and Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw – hosted and sponsored the event as they have done from the beginning in January 2009.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians co-sponsored the powwow in the early years, but have since dropped out as a sponsoring Tribe. However, individual Siletz Tribal members continue to participate, this year winning one of six Native dance contests.

Dance contest winners were:

  •        Mother-Daughter: Julie and Aurelia Johnson, Paiute/Shoshone;
  •        Father-Son: Christopher and Alex Williams, Cayuse Tribe;
  •        Jingle Dress: Keeli Nehani, Warm Springs/First Nations;
  •        Grass Dance: Marcel Allen, Grand Ronde;
  •        Women’s Traditional: Linda Meanus, Warm Springs;
  •        Men’s Traditional winner: Saul Jurado, Siletz.

“Dance is the heartbeat of our peoples,” said master of ceremonies Nick Sixkiller, an Eastern Cherokee Tribal member who works at the Siletz Tribe.

Arena Director again this year was Tony Whitehead, a Siletz Tribal member.

Fry bread, Indian tacos and all the usual powwow foods served dancers, drummers, Tribal members, Tribal staffs and almost a 1,000 guests watching in the bleachers.

As always, representatives from the four sponsoring Tribes met monthly beginning in August to organize this year’s powwow. Chelsea Clark, a Grand Ronde Tribal member and the Tribe’s Public Affairs administrative assistant, coordinated vendor participation.

Members from all the sponsoring Tribes, and from other Tribes across the state, staffed educational booths that featured lessons in carving, basket making, language and history, as well as crafts special to individual Tribes and Tribal members.

The Grand Ronde exhibit, with examples of carving, weaving techniques, a Chinuk Wawa language application and Chachalu museum materials, was led by Grand Ronde Tribal Cultural Education and Outreach Program Manager Kathy Cole. Greg Archuleta, Travis Mercier, Reina Nelson, Bradley Leno and Gabe Edwards also staffed the booth. 

Grand Entry started promptly at 1 p.m. led by Raymond Cree, a World War II veteran from the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and Bill DePoe from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, both with eagle staffs.

Right behind, also with eagle staffs, were Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Alton Butler, Cow Creek Elder Robert Van Norman, Coquille Elder Jack Lenox and Tlinget Tribal Elder Wayne Chulik.

Then came the flag bearers: Grand Ronde Elder Steve Bobb Sr. carrying the U. S. flag, Al Miller carrying the Oregon flag, Grand Ronde Tribal Police Officer Ron Wellborn with the POW-MIA flag, Tribal Elder Ray Petite with the Grand Ronde Tribal flag and Grand Ronde Tribal member Michael Lane carrying the flag of the U.S. Army.

Female war veterans came next in the lineup followed by Tribal Council members from the respective Tribes. For Grand Ronde, they included Chairman Reyn Leno, Vice Chair Jack Giffen Jr. and Tribal Council members Chris Mercier, Denise Harvey, Tonya Gleason-Shepek and Ed Pearsall. When all were in, the group went a long way toward filling up the center of the pavilion reserved for dancing.

Leno welcomed the crowd to the Grand Ronde Tribe’s ceded lands and said that the Tribe continues to teach traditional ways to its members.

Introduction of the veterans on hand followed.

Tribal Royalty and more than 20 from the Grand Ronde Canoe Family performed.

The powwow took an hour break at 5 p.m. During the intermission, Chemawa Apache Crown Dancers entertained the crowd.

Of 19 drums that attended the event, four - The Woodsmen of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the Star Horse Singers from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Bad Soul with Tribal members from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and Dancing Thunder representing the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians – were host drums.

The powwow was first planned to coincide with Oregon’s celebration of 150 years of statehood in 2009. The state’s western Tribes saw Oregon’s birthday event as an opportunity to tell the Northwest Native story, including treaty-guaranteed sovereignty and a history dating back from time immemorial.

Many from the non-Native community came to enjoy the day as well.

Charles and Penelope Gonzalez of Sweet Home came as “huge fans of Native American culture,” said Charles, a professional photographer taking a shot of a Native woven hat perched atop a Native canoe. “I go to all the (Native) events that I can.”

David and June Knorr of Aurora came for “the love of Indians,” David said. This was his second powwow in the Salem Pavilion. “The (regalia) was very impressive,” said June.

And for Native Americans, interest matched enthusiasm. Warren Austin, an Eastern Cherokee Tribal member, brought 15 of his performance arts students from Chemawa Indian School for the experience. He has taught at Chemawa since 2002.

Among Elders in attendance were Claudia Leno, Connie Bobb, Tribal Council member Cheryle A. Kennedy and her husband, Vernon, who is a member of the Burns Paiute Tribe, sisters Gladys Hobbs and Violet Folden, Duane and Regina Wheeler, David Clark, Una Birchum and family, Richard and Kathy Ray, Joyce Ham and her son, Alan, Deitz and Rose Peters, and many others.

Also in attendance were Lisa Archuleta and her son, Miguel Adams; Tammy Leno and her children, Brad and Brianna, and her granddaughter Taylor Ruggles; Lisa Leno; David Holmes; Janet Simi; Chad Leno; Brian Krehbiel and his family; Chris Martin and dozens more.

Karen Quigley, executive director of the Oregon Legislative Commission on Indian Services, also attended.

Sixkiller called the day “intense. It seemed like there was good energy there all day.”

The powwow ended at 9:30 p.m. And nobody noticed, or missed, the beautiful day outside.