Veterans Powwow attracts hundreds of attendees

07.13.2023 Danielle Harrison Events, Culture
Leloo Quenelle dances during the Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow held at Uyxat Powwow Grounds on Saturday, July 8. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo/Smoke Signals)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals editor

People from across the region gathered for the 2023 Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow during a weekend of beautiful Pacific Northwest summer weather.

The powwow, which ran through Sunday, July 9, attracted hundreds of attendees, and even a few four-legged ones.

Powwow weekend began with the Veterans Royalty Pageant held Friday morning at the Governance Center. The results were announced by Tribal Council member Jon A. George at a coronation event held at the Uyxat powwow grounds just before that evening’s 7 p.m. grand entry.

Memory Leno was named Veterans Senior Miss Queen, Leloo Quenelle was named Veterans Junior Miss Queen, Ulali Quenelle was named Veterans Little Miss Queen, Grace Macon was named Veterans Little Miss Princess and William Craig was named Veterans Honorary Tiny Tot Warrior.

“We appreciate all of the hard work you do in representing Grand Ronde,” George said.

Outgoing 2022-23 Veterans Royalty included Veterans Senior Miss Queen Tasina Bluehorse, Veterans Junior Miss Queen Leloo Quenelle and Veterans Little Miss Queen Ulali Quenelle.

This year’s host drum was Bad Eagle of Vancouver, Canada. The master of ceremonies was Nick Sixkiller (Cherokee) with Carlos Calica (Wasco, Paiute and Yakama) serving as arena director.

After the coronation, grand entry began per tradition with the Grand Ronde Honor Guard carrying in the colors and eagle staff, led by past Tribal Council chairman and Vietnam War-era Marine Corps veteran Reyn Leno. They were followed by veterans, Tribal Council members, Veterans Royalty and lastly all powwow dancers as they walked into the arbor.

Tribal Council members in attendance for Friday’s grand entry were Vice Chair Chris Mercier, Kathleen George, Jon A. George, Lisa Leno and Brenda Tuomi.

Jon A. George led the invocation and then veterans and royalty members introduced themselves to the crowd.

Mercier welcomed attendees to the event.

“It’s a good day,” he said. “I’m not a veteran but have had the fortune to serve with a lot of them (on council) and have developed some deep friendships. … I encourage young people to speak with your veterans and to learn more. If you think you’re having a bad day, talk to them. … Veterans Powwow is special because it kicks off the powwow season and I want to welcome you all here.”

When asked what he was enjoying most about the powwow, George said not having to worry about COVID-19.

“Honoring veterans after COVID is nice in person,” he said. “What a joy coming back together. It feels heartfelt. ... Being able to celebrate as one again. The nervous awareness was still happening before, whereas now we are finding the ‘new’ normal.”

Tribal member Lorena Rivera said she enjoyed the opportunity to honor veterans, come together and sing.

“(I’m) grateful to have the opportunity to get together with family, friends and the community,” she said. “You know a lot of people didn’t make it through the pandemic and we need to be grateful that we did.”

Tribal member and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Brandy Bishop echoed those sentiments.

“It’s a good thing,” she said. “It’s the beginning to the powwow season like Chris Mercier said. And it’s a tradition that we should not have stopped.”

Veteran Susan Hale, left, takes a hat from Little Miss Grand Ronde Desirae Hernandez during the Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow held at Uyxat Powwow Grounds on Saturday, July 8. Each veteran was gifted a hat representing their branch of service. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo/Smoke Signals)

Saturday attracted a larger number of people, with the arbor at the powwow grounds filling up as 1 p.m. grand entry began. 

Women’s northern traditional dancer Darcy Jimenez (Siletz) has been participating in powwows since she was a little girl.

“Some of the other dance styles are really flashy but women’s traditional you have to have grace,” she said. “This is an incredible event and I love the people here. It’s a real ‘feel good’ type of powwow. I love the connection with my powwow family.”   

Tribal Council members in attendance Saturday were Jon A. George, Mercier, Kathleen George and Tuomi, who is also an Army veteran and carried in the U.S. flag.

After the afternoon grand entry concluded, various royalty members and veterans introduced themselves.

This year, just as they did in 2022, organizers hosted a Veterans Resource Fair during the day on Friday, with a number of veterans’ organizations with informational booths, including Ramona Quenelle (Pit River), who serves as the Grand Ronde Tribe’s first veterans service officer.

Friday’s resource fair included breakfast snacks, lunch, information and speakers from the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Native Wellness Institute, VA Roseburg Health Care System and Lines for Life. A closing ceremony was held at the Tribal plankhouse, achaf-hammi.

Quenelle, a Navy veteran, dedicated her time at this year’s event to helping veterans with whatever assistance they needed. One of her main goals was to inform veterans about the changes that came about because of approval of the PACT Act legislation in August 2022, which opened up two new presumptive illnesses that Vietnam veterans could apply for if they were exposed to Agent Orange. This legislation also opened up myriad new presumptive illnesses and locations for Gulf War and post-9-11 era veterans as well.

During the resource fair, Tribal Elder Steven Rife Sr. was honored because he is a Purple Heart veteran. Additionally, several other Vietnam, World War II and Korean War veterans were honored.

A big part of any powwow is the food, and this one didn’t disappoint: Attendees could choose from a plethora of onsite vendor selections including the ever-popular fry bread and Indian tacos, lemonade, burgers, fries, hot dogs, fruit cups, nachos and coffee.

David and Barbara Shanta (Apache) own Rez Xpress, which they started in 1980. Their specialty is fry bread, used in their burger and Indian taco recipes.

“We started selling it for $1 but now is $5 because gas is expensive,” joked David.

When asked what keeps them serving hungry powwow attendees for 43 years, the answer was simple.

“It’s the people,” Barbara said.

A variety of vendors filled the powwow grounds, selling everything from ribbon skirts to intricate leather purses, moccasins and animal pelts.

Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Leona Jeffries has been creating beaded handbags, moccasins and jewelry for many years.

She started by making regalia and branched out from there.

“I am self-taught,” she said. “No one ever talked to me about my culture growing up, so I had to learn on my own and I love doing beadwork.”

Various informational booths from different Tribal departments were featured at the powwow, including the Health & Wellness Center, Great Circle Recovery and the Tribal Library, which gave away books on Saturday.

Powwow concluded Sunday with a final grand entry at noon.

The next powwow will be the Grand Ronde Contest Powwow slated for Aug. 18-20.

Publications Secretary Katherine Warren contributed to this article.