Contest Powwow attracts large number of dancers

08.30.2017 Dean Rhodes Culture, People, Events, Tribal Employees

Maybe it was the total solar eclipse occurring on Monday, Aug. 21.

Or perhaps it was the fact that there were no competing powwows in the Pacific Northwest.

Or it could have been the presence of renowned host drum Blackstone.

Or you could even chalk it up to the separation of the adult dance categories into junior and senior divisions that increased the total prize money available to $49,400.

Or, possibly, the 80-degree weather that was much more amenable than last year’s triple-digit temperatures.

Whatever the reason or reasons, the 2017 Grand Ronde Contest Powwow was one of the best attended in recent memory.

“This is our biggest Friday night ever,” Powwow Special Event Board Chair Dana Ainam said during the 7 p.m. grand entry on Friday, Aug. 18.

There were so many dancers at Uyxat Powwow Grounds for the Friday evening grand entry that it took approximately 20 minutes for them all to enter the Arbor and form three concentric circles.

In all, 275 dancers registered to compete in the Contest Powwow’s 26 dance categories. Less than 200 dancers registered in 2016.

Grand Ronde dancers won three prizes, led by Leah Villa taking first place in the Junior Adult Womens Traditional category.

“It was an amazing weekend,” Ainam said. “We were prepared for the eclipse impact, but luckily didn’t have to put plans into action. My gratitude goes to the hard work and support of the Powwow Committee, work crew and many of our Tribal staff and programs that made the weekend flow smoothly and a tremendous success.”


Royalty Pageant

Contest Powwow weekend activities started at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, with the Royalty Pageant held in the Atrium in the Governance Center.

Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George was the master of ceremonies and Tribal Council Vice Chair Cheryle A. Kennedy gave the opening prayer.

Royalty Pageant judges were Tribal Council member Brenda Tuomi, Spirit Mountain Casino Marketing Director Shawna Ridgebear and Tianna Clark.

The only contested position on Royalty was for Senior Miss Grand Ronde with Kailiyah Krehbiel and Isabelle Grout vying for the position. Junior Miss Grand Ronde Kaleigha Simi, Little Miss Grand Ronde Sophia Grout, honorary Tiny Tot Jameson Turner and Grand Ronde Warrior Nacoma Liebelt were unopposed.

On Friday, Aug. 18, Grout was crowned Senior Miss Grand Ronde at Uyxat Powwow Grounds’ Arbor after outgoing Royalty for 2016-17 gave speeches and held appreciation giveaways. Outgoing Royalty were Senior Miss Grand Ronde Iyana Holmes, Junior Miss Grand Ronde Isabelle Grout and Little Miss Grand Ronde Kaleigha Simi.


Friday grand entry

The Contest Powwow attracted nine contest drums – Red Hoop, Bucwild, Chute No. 8, Bucshot, 4 Bands, Silent Hill, Buffalo Hill, Indian Nation and Signal Butte – that competed for a combined $20,000 in prizes. There also were five non-contest drums: Red River, Turquoise Pride, Red Nations, Eagle Lodge Singers and Wandering Boys. Bucwild took home the grand prize of $8,000.

Friday night’s grand entry was led by Tribal Elder Alton Butler and Wayne Chulik (Tlingit) carrying in eagle staffs. Butler carried in a new eagle staff created by Tribal Elder Deitz Peters as the old eagle staff belonging to the late Marcellus Norwest was retired.

As host drum Blackstone pounded out and sang an honor song, Tribal Elder Steve Bobb Sr. carried in the U.S. flag, Tribal Elder Raymond Petite carried in the Grand Ronde flag, Tribal spouse Richard VanAtta carried in the MIA/POW flag and Al Miller carried in the Oregon flag. They were followed by veterans, Tribal Council members, Tribal Royalty from various Tribes and Contest Powwow contestants starting with the Golden Age dancers 50 and older and ending with the Tiny Tot dancers 5 years of age and younger.

Tribal Council members who marched in were Tribal Chair Reyn Leno, Secretary Jon A. George, Tonya Gleason-Shepek, Brenda Tuomi, Denise Harvey, Jack Giffen Jr., Chris Mercier and Kathleen George.

Cultural Resources Cultural Adviser Bobby Mercier gave the invocation in Chinuk Wawa and Leno welcomed attendees who packed the bleachers and wooden seating area under the Arbor.

“I’d just like to thank everyone for coming this evening,” Leno said. “As you look out here, I’d like to have a special hand for all of these fine dancers who have come a long way. When you look at this regalia, a lot of it is handmade. A lot of work goes into it. Our drummers have come a long way. They’ve come here to share our culture and our history with you.”

Leno honored veterans and Elders in attendance, as well as the young dancers.

“All we ask of you as guests here is to make sure you honor our lands,” Leno said. “This is actually very sacred ground to us so I ask you to acknowledge that ground, acknowledge these dancers and acknowledge these drummers. … We’re here to have a great weekend and I can only imagine what the crowd will be tomorrow and tomorrow night.”

Friday evening featured numerous InterTribal dances and was highlighted by Chinuk Language Assistant Halona Butler and her husband, Washie Squetimkin, holding a Tiny Tot special for the coming out of their 1-year-old daughter, Willow.


Contest dancing begins

Saturday afternoon’s attendance at the powwow was even larger and Leno mentioned it as he welcomed contestants and audience members to the 1 p.m. grand entry. Saturday’s grand entry again took more than 20 minutes to get every dancer underneath the Arbor.

“This is probably one of the biggest powwows we have ever had here in Grand Ronde,” Leno said. “I’ve lived here all of my life and we started our powwows down at our old museum grounds. Very small. We moved to the Governance Center and then we were up here for a few years before we built this beautiful arbor.”

Bobb gave the invocation and acknowledged the “collage of colors” on display among dancers’ regalia.

During Saturday’s grand entry, veterans were acknowledged and introduced themselves. Tribal Elder and World War II veteran Herman Hudson and Korean War veteran Dan Foster were the eldest veterans in attendance.

After Saturday’s first grand entry, the Tribal Education Committee held its annual “School Is Cool” special for youth in kindergarten through 12th grade wearing regalia or not. Prizes included backpacks stuffed with gift cards and school supplies, books, lunch bags and pencil boxes. Tribal Librarian Marion Mercier donated the books.

Education Committee Chair Tammy Cook said the special is designed to encourage youth to stay in school. “It’s so important,” she said.

Saturday afternoon was the beginning of the “contest” in Contest Powwow as dancers started competing in the junior dance competitions and drums were judged on their second of two songs. Golden Age categories were decided Saturday evening and adult dance categories were judged during Sunday afternoon’s session that started at noon to accommodate those wanting to get an early start on eclipse traffic.

Powwow attendees had a good choice of food vendors, including Grand Ronde Station and Dutch Bros., and everything to nosh on from curly fries to yakisoba noodles to smokehouse barbecue.

Other vendors sold fidget spinners, shirts, necklaces, Native pottery and jewelry, and Senior Human Resources Generalist Steve O’Harra sold custom-made buttons.

Several Tribal departments, including Children & Family Services and Housing, staffed informational tables during the three days.

Tribal Court Records Clerk Brittany Mock volunteered her hair services on Saturday, performing haircuts, thermal styling and braiding free of charge. “It was boom, boom, boom,” she said. “Five and a half hours of no food, no potty break … always someone sitting in my chair.”

Contest Powwow staff included master of ceremonies Casey Wallahee, Arena Director Fred Ike Jr., Head Dance Judge Charles Tailfeathers and Head Drum Judge Chase Sayer. Besides the regular prizes, specials with prize payoffs included a Round Bustle/Chicken Dance that paid $800 for first, a Men’s Fancy that paid $1,000 for first and a Women’s Basket Cap that paid $800 for first.

A/V Network Technician Wendell Olson, Senior Help Desk Technician Alec Mercier and Telecommunications Technician Joe Loomis were on hand until 6 p.m. Sunday to ensure the sound system worked properly throughout the four grand entries.

Other Tribal Royalty in attendance included Miss Arrow Lakes Kesawin Washburn, Miss Spirit Omak Isbell Hunt, Portland State’s Miss Naimuma Keeli Littleleaf and Grand Ronde Veterans Royalty Hailey Lewis-Little, Tasina Bluehorse and Camas Gibbons.

The only adverse effect of the busy eclipse weekend on this year’s Contest Powwow was that no teams signed up for the Recreation Department’s 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, which was canceled after a five-year run.

“We believe the eclipse event played a big role in the lack of participation this year,” Recreation Specialist Harris Reibach said.

Reibach said the tournament will return in 2018.

Also on Monday morning, a smattering of powwow attendees remained at Uyxat Powwow Grounds to view the total solar eclipse that darkened the skies over Grand Ronde at 10:17 a.m.