Powwow proud: Annual contest returns after two-year break and draws large crowds

08.22.2022 Danielle Harrison Events, Culture
Grand Ronde Tribal member Harris Reibach participates in grand entry during the second day of the 2022 Grand Ronde Contest Powwow held Saturday, Aug. 20, at uyxat Powwow Grounds. (Photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals assistant editor/staff writer

Hope. Loss. Resilience. Joy. Pride.

These emotions and more were undercurrents during the Grand Ronde Tribe’s first Contest Powwow held since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the event in 2020 and 2021.

During this challenging time, when even the thought of gathering in large crowds was enough to cause anxiety, Native people couldn’t be together, dancing and sharing in all that powwow brings. This realization was palpable and many remarked that events like this were even more special in the shadow of so much loss.

“This feels great being in the spirit,” Willie Towner (Hoopa) said during a break from dancing.

Towner, a traditional dancer, has ties to the Grand Ronde Tribe and has been attending the Contest Powwow for several years.  

“Grand Ronde is in my blood,” he said.   

Three months ago, his niece died after a fentanyl overdose. Usually, powwow dancers mourn for a year before returning to the dance floor, but he felt compelled to move.

“I couldn’t sit,” Towner said. “So I asked some Elders and they said, ‘Dance!’ When I dance I am doing it for my niece.”

The Contest Powwow began with the Royalty coronation at the uyxat Powwow Grounds arbor on Friday, Aug. 19, before the 7 p.m. grand entry.

Anavey Smith was crowned Senior Miss Grand Ronde, Marie Quenelle was crowned Junior Miss Grand Ronde, Desirae Hernandez was crowned Little Miss Grand Ronde and Ila Mercier was crowned Little Miss Princess. Harper Hernandez and Willow Squetimkin were named Tiny Tots.

Friday’s grand entry took almost 15 minutes for all the dancers to fill the arbor. Master of ceremonies Howie Thompson (Assiniboine) looked at the crowd and said, “Hey, now this feels like a powwow!”

Other head staff for this year’s powwow included arena director Anthony Quenelle (Grand Ronde), head dance judge Douglas Scofield (Wintun) and head drum judge Jermaine Bell (Northern Arapaho/Oglala Lakota).

The dancers were led in the arbor Friday evening by the Grand Ronde Honor Guard followed by veterans, past and current Tribal Council members and Grand Ronde Royalty.

Tribal Council members in attendance Friday evening were Vice Chair Chris Mercier, Secretary Michael Langley, Denise Harvey, Jack Giffen Jr., Michael Cherry, Jon A. George, Lisa Leno and Kathleen George.

Tribal member Bobby Mercier gave the invocation and Chris Mercier spoke to the crowd.

“It’s been a long time, three years since our last Contest Powwow,” he said. “That’s three years too long and it’s so good to see everyone here, getting together again. It’s good to be in powwow, where we put our differences aside. We’ve had a lot of loss in the community, and recently lost Tribal Elder Steve Bobb. Steve is a person who I am sure most of you knew and many were friends with him. But I know he would want the show to go on. That’s what powwow is about: Remembering our ancestors and those who have gone before us.”

The Contest Powwow draws attendees from all walks of life. This year, Hope Walker of McMinnville brought several exchange students with her so they could experience local Indigenous culture. They visited the Tribal museum, Chachalu, before stopping by the powwow. The students, who come from countries ranging from India to Egypt, were fascinated by the event, particularly the regalia.

“I wanted them to be aware of the Indigenous culture we have here,” Walker said. “They had no idea what a powwow was or what regalia is … I’m trying to give them a cultural component during their stay.”

The students are part of an exchange program called Ayusa. They had to complete a rigorous application process and compete against hundreds of other teens to be selected. Walker added that several still need host families for the school year, particularly in the Yamhill County area.

The powwow attracted 290 registered dancers and eight drum groups. The host drum was Blackstone & Tha Boys.

Saturday’s crowds were the largest that anyone can remember, Powwow Special Event Board Chair Dana Ainam said. At times, the line of cars on Hebo Road to get into the powwow grounds stretched for more than half a mile.

“We had the largest turnout ever and had to create an overflow parking area Saturday morning,” she said.

Saturday’s grand entry took approximately 20 minutes for dancers to enter the arbor. The seating area for attendees filled quickly and spilled out to the lawn. Once again, dancers were led in by the Honor Guard, veterans, past and current Tribal Council members and Grand Ronde Royalty.

Tribal Council members in attendance were Secretary Michael Langley, Denise Harvey, Kathleen George, Michael Cherry, Jack Giffen Jr., Lisa Leno and Jon A. George.

“This is incredible,” Cherry said. “It is so powerful walking in during grand entry and my prayers are going out to the people who couldn’t be here anymore.”

Tribal Cultural Resources Manager and Tribal member David Harrelson attended powwow with his family and said he appreciates the event even more after the pandemic.

“This just feels so vibrant and alive,” he said. “Six months ago, I couldn’t imagine this happening. We’ve had to close and open Chachalu four times during the pandemic and it feels good to be here.”

Food selections ranged from the always popular Indian tacos and fry bread to yakisoba noodles, fruit smoothies and French fries.

Various Tribal departments manned booths at the powwow. They included Great Circle Recovery, Grand Ronde Emergency Services, Spirit Mountain Casino, Children and Family Services, Warriors of Hope, Grand Ronde Housing and TERO.

There were a wide range of vendors who filled the outer area of the powwow grounds, selling everything from jewelry to baskets and regalia.

Zani Nevayaktewa (Hopi) and her mother-in-law, Regana Begay (Navajo), own RRB Native Jewelry. Both said the pandemic had been rough as the business is their main livelihood.

“The grants we got from NAYA and the loans from the federal government really got us through,” Begay said. “It’s been rough. We tried to sell at online sites, but with jewelry it’s tough because people want to pick it up and see how it looks. If we hadn’t gotten grants, we wouldn’t have had any income at all.”

Added Nevayaktewa, “It feels good to be back here. Being able to see the children and adults in their regalia and seeing the Native community come together again is good.”

Saturday evening’s grand entry included a red dress special to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women. Grand Ronde Firefighter/EMT Kaylene Barry traded in her uniform for a traditional dress to honor her missing cousin, Heather Cameron. Aug. 18 marked 10 years since Cameron, then 28, went missing in a remote area of Shasta County, Calif., under suspicious circumstances. She is most likely a victim of domestic violence against Native American women.

“It’s been 10 years since Heather has been missing and I want to spread awareness about her, and other missing and murdered Indigenous women,” Barry, 22, said. “I personally looked for her and it was weighing very heavily on my heart since this is the 10th anniversary. My cousin meant a lot to me and powwow feels like the time to honor her.”

Saturday evening also included specials honoring Charles “Charlie” Tailfeathers and Fred Ike Jr., who walked on in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Tailfeathers (Cree/Blackfeet) was a fixture at numerous powwows and veterans events held in Grand Ronde while Ike Jr. (Yakama) served as arena director for many years at the Contest Powwow.

More than $55,000 in prize money was danced for and prizes ranged from $100 for a consolation prize to $2,000 for first place. Grand Ronde winners were Desirae Hernandez, second place in junior girls jingle; Leloo Quenelle, fourth place in junior girls fancy; Kaleigha Simi, third place in teen girls jingle; and Nacoma Liebelt, third in teen boys traditional.

Drum groups competed for $30,000 in prize money. The $10,000 grand prize winner was Indian Hill. More information on the winners can be found in the sidebar to this story.

The Contest Powwow concluded Sunday, Aug. 21, with a 1 p.m. grand entry.

2022 Grand Ronde Contest Powwow winners

Junior Girls Jingle: Keshina Jack, Dine, first; Desirae Hernandez, Grand Ronde, second; Lily Johnson, Burns Paiute, third; Alimna Jackson, Yakama, fourth; and Karmen Paul, Muckleshoot, fifth.

Junior Girls Fancy: Erin Bearspaw, Stoney Nakoda, first; Jayden Helliday, Yakama/Navajo, second; Vera Johnson, Burns Paiute, third; Leloo Quenelle, Grand Ronde, fourth; and Tauriel Scabbyrobe, Stoney/Blackfeet, fifth.

Junior Girls Traditional: Winter Cantsee, Paitue/Dakota, first; Ne’Naya Jack, Dine, second; Molly David, Nchi Wanathlama, third; Athena Reed, Yakama, fourth; and Aria Olney, Yakama, fifth.

Junior Boys Grass: Jaden Walsey, Warm Springs, first; Darius Walsey, Yakama, second; Jo’ziah Celestial, Navajo, third; Grayson Walsey, Warm Springs, fourth; and Asher Stwyer, Warm Springs, fifth.

Junior Boys Fancy: Jacoby Scabbyrobe, Nez Perce/Blackfeet, first; Moses Walsey, Yakama, second; Hoody Walsey, Yakama/Warm Springs, third; Jaycen Llena, Navajo, fourth; and J.J. Meninick Jr., Yakama, fifth;

Junior Boys Traditional: Luke Washines, Yakama/Pawnee, first; Strip Dave, Yakama, second; Eva Jurado, Siletz, third; Alex Allen, Nez Perce, fourth; and Saul Jurado Jr., Siletz, fifth.

Teen Girls Jingle: Qualynn Olney, Yakama, first; Junee Picard, Nez Perce, second; Kaleigha Simi, Grand Ronde, third; Jasmine Barney, Navajo/Burns Paiute, fourth; and Shakyla Jackson, Klamath, fifth.

Teen Girls Fancy: Macyquinn Johnson, Wasco Paiute, first; Manivee Jack, Dine/Hope, second; Claudia Suarez, Pit River, third; Kee’ala Walsey, Dine, fourth; and Aliana Soliz, Klamath/Modoc, fifth.

Teen Girls Traditional: Olivia Allen, first; Vivian Winter, second; Victoria Butler, third; Nevaeh Thomson, fourth; and Chontay Squya English, fifth. (Tribal affiliations not available.)

Teen Boys Grass: Elijah Denny, Warm Springs, first; Kinton Walsey, Yakama/Warm Springs, second; Camdon Crott, Blackfeet, third; and Adam Soliz, Klamath/Modoc, fourth.

Teen Boys Fancy: Apollo Johnson, Warm Springs, first; Sun Hawk Barney, Navajo/Burns Paiute; second; Iit’ha’kuri Scabbyrobe, Yakama, third; Sonny Walsey, Yakama, fourth; and Julian Stwyer, Warm Springs, fifth.

Teen Boys Traditional: Bryron Wallahee, Yakama, first; Nakoa Kakakaway, Cree, second; Nacoma Liebelt, Grand Ronde, third; Lewis Allen, Nez Perce, fourth; and Emery Kordatzky, Umatilla, fifth.

Senior Golden Age Women: Audrey Olney, Yakama, first; Ladybird Jack, Dine, second; Justine Croff, Blackfeet, third; Ruth Jim, Yakama, fourth; and Jane Jackson, Klamath, fifth.

Senior Golden Age Men: Peter Jo Olney, Yakama, first; Frank Eaglespeaker, Blood, second; John Meninick, Yakama, third; Derald Julianto, Shoshone-Paiute, fourth; and Lorren Sammaripa, Northern Paiute, fifth.

Junior Golden Age Women: Melinda Goodwill, Lakota/Dakota, first; Wilma Buck, Yakama, second; Michelle Black Kettle, Blackfeet, third; Cece Walsey-Begay, Yakama, fourth; and Cathleen Lombard, Cowlitz, fifth.

Junior Golden Age Men: Stan Whiteman Sr., Blackfeet/Blood, first; Orrenzo Snyder, Dine, second; Phil Allen, Nez Perce, third; Jeff Downing, Wicasa, fourth; and Rod Begay, Yakama, fifth.

Senior Womens Jingle: Bridget Eaglespeaker, Puyallup, first; Betty Stephens, Navajo, second; Kris Whitehead, Colville, third; and Sissy Rilatos, Siletz, fourth.

Senior Womens Fancy: Urseloria Walsey, Dine, first; Denaye Jack-Honani, Dine, second; Josette Scholfield, Potawatomi, third; Irene Onepenny, Yakama, fourth; and Zelma Walsey, Yakama, fifth.

Senior Womens Traditional: Roberta Smith, Navajo, first; Tilda Walsey, Warm Springs/Yakama, second; Violet Olney, Yakama, third; Marie Jackson, Yakama, fourth; and Hollie Eaglespeaker, Blackfeet, fifth.

Senior Mens Grass: Lee Jack Jr., Diine, first; Gary Villa, Warm Springs, second; Darrell Paskimin, Plains Cree, third; Theodore Olney, Yakama, fourth; and Ron Kicking Women Sr., Blackfeet, fifth.

Senior Mens Fancy: Darrell Hill, Oneida/Menominee, first; J.J. Meninick, Sr., Yakama, second; Larry Buck, Yakama, third; and Albert Onepennee, Yakam, fourth;

Senior Mens Traditional: Brando Jack, Dine, first; George Meninick Jr., Yakama, second; Caley Ouray Cantsee, Dakota, third; Carlos Calica, Warm Springs, fourth; and Reggie Walsey, Warm Springs/Yakam, fifth.

Junior Womens Jingle: Cherokee Eagletail, TsuuT’ina Nation, first; Jovi Schuyler, Navajo, second; Selena Jackson, Navajo, third; Roxane Gomez, Pit River/Ojibwe, fourth; and Celeste McGurk, Navajo, fifth.

Junior Womens Fancy: Arianne Sheka, Ho-chunk, first; Miriam Walsey, Yakama, second; Carissa Jackson, Klamath, third; Talia Reasoner, Seminole, fourth; and Cecelia Bourgeau, Rosebud Sioux, fifth.

Junior Womens Traditional: Destiny Hunt-Buck, Wanapum/Yakama, first; Jonae Scabbyrobe, Nez Perce/Blackfeet, second; Shoshana Kee, Shoshone, third; Jishon Reed, Yakama, fourth; and Teata Ellenwood, Umatilla, fifth.

Junior Adult Mens Grass: Creighton Scabbyrobe, Blackfeet/Cree, first; Trenton Calica, Warm Springs, second; Rolin Morningow, Warm Springs, third; Grayson Johnson, Warm Springs, fourth; and Matthew Clements, Paiute/Warm Springs, fifth.

Junior Mens Fancy: Daniel Scholfield, Potawatomi, first; Jonathan Nomee, Coeur d’Alene, second; Piita Thunderchild, Cree, third; Gary Olney, Yakama, fourth; and Preston Olney, Dine/Yakama, fifth.

Junior Mens Traditional: Jared Brown, North Fork Mono/Dine, first; T.J. Olney, Dine/Yakama, second; Saul Jurado, Siletz, third; Kiowa Dougherty, Kiowa/Blood, fourth; and Quindon Calica, Warm Springs, fifth.

Drums: Indian Hill, first; Wild Rose, second; Buffalo Hill, third; Bad Soul, fourth; and Star Society, fifth.