2015 Contest Powwow attracts largest estimated crowd ever

08.31.2015 Brent Merrill Culture, Events

This year’s Grand Ronde Contest Powwow at Uyxat Powwow Grounds drew visitors from near and far and may have attracted the largest crowd to gather for a powwow ever in Grand Ronde.

Honorary host drum Bad Soul (formerly The West Coast Boyz) started things off with Friday night’s grand entry under the arbor as veterans led the way for dancers into the arena. Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Alton Butler, a Marine Corps veteran, carried the Grand Ronde eagle staff and Wayne Chulik (Tlingit/Haida) walked next to Butler with an eagle staff.

Tribal Elder Steve Bobb Sr. (Marine Corps) carried the American flag, Al Miller (Navy) carried the POW/MIA flag, Mike Lane (Army) the Oregon flag and Tribal Chairman Reyn Leno (Marine Corps) carried the Grand Ronde Tribal flag into the arena.

Tribal Council members Jon A. George, Cheryle A. Kennedy, Denise Harvey, Tonya Gleason-Shepek, Chris Mercier and Jack Giffen Jr. entered the arena to the sounds of Red Hoop followed by Tribal Royalty.

Tribal Royalty included newly crowned Senior Miss Grand Ronde Promise Rimer, Junior Miss Grand Ronde Isabelle Grout and Little Miss Grand Ronde Kaleigha Simi.

Longtime Arena Director Freddie Ike Jr. (Yakama/Wasco) guided everyone into the arena while Red Bull drum brought in all the dancers and the arena was three circles deep by the time everyone had entered.

Charlie Tailfeathers (Cree/Blackfeet) acted as head judge, Sidrick Baker Sr. (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara) was the head judge for drum groups and Fred Hill (Umatilla) was the master of ceremonies.

Bobb gave the opening invocation and Leno started the event by addressing the crowd.

“I want to welcome you here to our reservation,” said Leno. “I want to recognize all the Elders out there and I want to recognize all of our veterans. This is very sacred ground to us; it’s not just the powwow grounds. This is actually where our people settled in the 1850s when they came here. We would ask you to recognize this ground.

“I also want to put our prayers and thoughts out to the Warm Springs people. Fire season is a horrible thing and people are losing a lot out there so we want to put them in our thoughts.”

This year’s dancing started with three straight drum songs by Bad Soul. First up were the kindergarteners through fourth-graders, then the fifth- through eighth-graders and then the ninth- through 12th-graders.

Saturday afternoon’s grand entry may have been the largest ever hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Tribal member Chelsea Clark held the smudge pot for everyone who entered the arena and once again host drum Bad Soul kicked the day’s event off with an honor song. Chiluk carried the eagle staff and Butler carried the Grand Ronde eagle staff.

Yakama Tribal member Terry Lheemsah Sr. and Nez Perce Tribal member Steve Rubin entered the arena next. Both Lheemsah and Rubin were in full headdress regalia and Lheemsah carried a silver tomahawk and Rubin carried an eagle claw stick.

Red Bull had the second drum song as Bobb carried in the American flag, Tribal Elder Raymond Petite carried in the Grand Ronde Tribal flag, Lane carried in the POW/MIA flag and Miller carried in the Oregon flag.

Red Hoop had the third song as the veterans entered the arena followed by the Grand Ronde Tribal Council represented by Jon A. George, Cheryle A. Kennedy, Denise Harvey, Chris Mercier, Ed Pearsall, Tonya Gleason-Shepek, Vice Chairman Jack Giffen Jr. and Chairman Reyn Leno.

Iron Horse had the fourth song as the golden age women entered followed by the jingle dress dancers and the fancy shawl dancers.

Iron Eagle had the fifth song as the golden age men entered the arena followed by the grass dancers and the double bustle dancers.

All the dancers fit nicely onto the dance floor and stood five circles deep around the arena as Bad Soul performed an honor song to retire the colors.

Kennedy offered the invocation and Leno gave the welcome.

“I would like to acknowledge all of our dancers that have come a long ways, our drummers and our guests,” said Leno. “We all come together in respect of the Native American culture and our history, which we hope to keep going. I want to always acknowledge our Elders – they always carry our wisdom.

“I want to acknowledge all of our young ones. I want to acknowledge our Royalty that were just crowned yesterday. They are the future of any Native American Tribe.

“We need to think about our firefighters. They are out there trying to protect people’s land and their lives. I would ask you to give them your prayers and thoughts.”

Saturday saw Maori dancers from New Zealand perform under the arbor and the family of late Tribal Elder Kenneth “Kenny” Lafferty (1938-2014) held a traditional giveaway and honor dance.

“My grandpa passed away last year on June 6,” said Cheyanne Zimmer, who along with her sister, Nichole Liebelt, made shawls and necklaces for gifts. “There were very high emotions because it was almost like saying goodbye again.

“Afterwards it felt really good and it felt like we did it right. We did right by him and I think we did good honoring him. He was amazing. He was the rock for our family. I loved him. I think my grandpa is smiling down on us.”

As many as 25 members of Lafferty’s family participated in the traditional giveaway with the youngest members handling the passing out of gifts.

Bad Soul got things started again for the contest at about 2:30 p.m. Host drum Bad Soul consists of Leland Butler, Washie Squitimkin, Carlos McNair, Dustin Harmon, Robin Uses Arrow, Bo Johnson, Sunny Doeny, James Smith, Jeremy Russell and William and San Poil Whitehead, who represent many Tribes.

A total of 237 dancers registered for the Contest Powwow this year and an estimated 300 dancers filled the arena during Saturday’s interTribal dances. Dancers in 21 categories, including the winner-takes-all mother/daughter special, competed for approximately $35,000 in prize money.

Five Grand Ronde Tribal members placed in the dance categories, including two dancers in the Junior Girls Jingle dance category. Kaleigha Simi finished fourth and Aleena Westley finished in fifth place.

Tribal youth Nacoma Liebelt finished fourth in the Junior Boys Traditional category, Marcel Allen finished third in the Teen Boys Grass dance competition and Leah Villa finished third in the Womens Traditional dance category.

“I think it definitely answered the question of the arena being big enough,” said Leno. “We could have done a couple more circles at grand entry.”

Leno said the Contest Powwow ran out of parking and that the visually striking new arbor added to this year’s attraction. Powwow T-shirts sold out by 2 p.m. Saturday.

“It showed how serious we take our gatherings,” said Leno. “Overall, it was great to see that many people come together and work together. It really showed people we are here for the right reasons. I think our ancestors who passed away would be looking down on this as a great representation.

“It (the arbor) represents the strength of the Tribe. Now we have built something that will probably be here forever. My dad would have said, ‘This is what we do.’ ”

This year’s drum competition featured $20,000 in prize money, including $8,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place and $3,000 for third place. Blackstone won the competition, Iron Horse finished second and Wild Rose finished third.

Many powwow attendees had first-time experiences that they said they would remember forever.

Tribal member Rhonda Leno, Social Services Department secretary, said this year’s powwow was her favorite. She said it was the first time her granddaughter, Grace Ness, danced on the powwow grounds in regalia that she had made for her.

“She was really enjoying the dancing,” said Rhonda. “I have to say this was one of my favorite powwows. I think my granddaughter had a lot to do with that. She’s just starting out. She’s just 20 months old. There was a real sense of joy. It was great. I hope next year’s powwow brings the same sort of energy. Powwow is family and that is what it means to me.”

New to the area and attending their first powwow were Rob Shader and his wife, Maggie. Shader is the new varsity head football coach at Willamina High School, where he will teach world history, and Maggie is the new cheerleader coach at Willamina Middle School, where she will teach social studies.

“My wife and I had a great time experiencing a different culture,” said Shader. “We both teach history and culture is a big part of our curriculum. Having 33 percent Native students in our classrooms, it was fun to experience what they have grown up with.”

Spirit Mountain Casino security guard Roel Hernandez brought his mother, Virginia Hernandez, from Lubbock, Texas, for this year’s event and she soaked it all in from the bleachers.

“It’s beautiful,” said Virginia. “I haven’t seen anything like this before.”

Ashlee Webb had her husband Ryan’s family visiting from England to experience the powwow. Ryan’s brothers, Phillip and Victor and Victor’s wife Ann-Marie experienced the Tribal event for the first time and they all loved it.

Phillip lives with his mother and father in Gloucester, England, and Victor and Ann-Marie currently live in Kuwait City, Kuwait.

“It’s nice to see the culture, especially being from England you’re not exposed to the Tribal experience,” said Ann-Marie. “It’s nice to be a part of it and it’s nice to get a really warm welcome.”

Ryan’s mother, Diane, was impressed with the young dancers she saw in the arena.

“I think it’s nice to see the tradition kept alive, isn’t it? The regalia is amazing. It is good to see the next generation. They were really good dancers, I mean really good.”

Ann-Marie said she liked Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Claudia Leno’s Indian tacos.

“Brilliant,” she said with a big smile.


Editor’s note: Ashlee Webb is reporter Brent Merrill’s daughter.