Annual Contest Powwow draws thousands to Grand Ronde

08.22.2023 Danielle Harrison Powwows
Nacoma Liebelt dances in an InterTribal during the 2023 Grand Ronde Contest Powwow at Uyxat Powwow Grounds on Saturday, Aug. 19. He competed in the teen boys traditional dance category and placed fifth. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals editor

During the Grand Ronde Contest Powwow grand entry on Friday, Aug. 18, one word quickly came to mind: Packed.

There were so many participants at grand entry that it took more than 20 minutes for dancers to make their way into the uyxat Powwow Grounds arbor, where they stood four rows deep.

“It’s a good weekend to be Indigenous,” Tribal Council Vice Chair Chris Mercier said as he welcomed attendees. “I’m glad everyone has taken the time to be here.” 

The Contest Powwow began with the Royalty coronation at the uyxat Powwow Grounds arbor on Friday 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 Junior Miss Princess, Ila Mercier was crowned Little Miss Grand Ronde, Willow Squetimkin was crowned Little Miss Princess and Harper Hernandez was named Tiny Tot Princess.

Outgoing 2022-23 Royalty were Tiny Tot Princesses Willow Squetimkin and Harper Hernandez, Little Miss Princess Ila Mercier, Little Miss Grand Ronde Desirae Hernandez, Junior Miss Grand Ronde Marie Quenelle and Senior Miss Grand Ronde Anavey Smith.

After the coronation, dancers and others in attendance filled the arbor while master of ceremonies Howie Thompson (Assiniboine) looked at the crowd and said, “We’ve gathered a lot of people from all over Indian County. They bring their music, their voices and their prayers.”

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 Derrick Keeswood (Onion Lake Cree Nation).

The dancers were led into 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 Mercier, Brenda Tuomi, Michael Cherry, Jon A. George, Lisa Leno and Kathleen George.

Tribal member Bobby Mercier gave the invocation and then Tribal Council members introduced themselves to the crowd.

“It’s wonderful to see so many smiling faces,” Cherry said. “Just to be here in community, fellowship and love, I just really love everyone here and am thankful for you.”  

The powwow attracted more than 300 registered dancers and eight drum groups. The host drums were Bullhorn and Indian Hill.

The crowds continued Saturday, with cars waiting more than 15 minutes to enter the powwow grounds at times.

Saturday’s grand entry took approximately 22 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 on Saturday were Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy, Vice Chair Chris Mercier, Secretary Michael Langley, Kathleen George, Michael Cherry, Lisa Leno, Brenda Tuomi and Jon A. George. Kennedy said the invocation.

Larry Buck (Wanapum/Yakama) is a men’s fancy dancer. He’s been participating in powwows for the last 15 years, and has attended the Tribe’s Contest Powwow at least five times.

“You really have to be creative with this dance style,” he said. “I’m not really a footwork person.”

He added that his favorite aspect of the powwow was the arbor.  

“It’s nice and flat, and you don’t end up with a twisted ankle,” he said.

Shaayla Jackson (Klamath) is a contemporary jingle dancer who has attended the powwow five times.

“I love the hospitality and the friendliness that takes place here,” she said.

Alicia Miller (Klamath), a fancy shawl dancer, has been to the powwow twice.

“I like that there are a lot of people and dancers who show up all weekend,” she said.

Powwow food selections ranged from the always popular Indian tacos and fry bread to yakisoba noodles, street tacos, fruit smoothies, lemonade, pizza and French fries.

Various Tribal departments staffed booths at the powwow. They included Great Circle Recovery, Health & Wellness, Emergency Services, Natural Resources, and Children & Family Services.

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

Kelly and Nacoma Martin own To the Moon and Back Gifts, which the couple launched in 2021. Nacoma is a Grand Ronde Tribal member.

“We started at small farmers markets with two tables and gifts,” Kelly said.

Since then, the couple has expanded their offerings to include handmade jewelry, medicinal herbs, drums, rainbow catchers, inflatables, a kids’ candy store and more.

“We love being here,” Kelly said. “I love watching the kids come in and have fun. We’ve also had some pretty deep, spiritual conversations with different people who come in. That’s what is most important, the interactions.”

Grand Ronde Tribal member Kitana Connelly started her art business, Creator Twahna, two years ago.

She melds her love of digital painting and abstract art into unique portraits.

“I like to combine the two and find inspiration from the land and our culture,” she said. “I’m a big advocate for healing and connection. My work represents more traditional Indigenous spirituality.”

More than $22,000 in prize money was danced for and prizes ranged from $100 for a consolation prize to $1,000 for first place.

Specials included the Saturday Night Best Dressed Drum Group with a top prize of $800, a Prairie Chicken/Round Bustle committee special with a top prize of $700, a Women’s Jingle Contemporary vs. Old Style special also with a top prize of $700, a Squetimkin & Hernandez Family Junior Jingle Special and an honoring special for outgoing Junior Miss Grand Ronde 2022-23 Marie Quenelle.

Grand Ronde winners were Leah Brisbois, third in junior adult women’s traditional; Nate Norwest, fourth in junior adult men’s grass; Nacoma Liebelt, fifth in teen boys traditional; Desirae Hernandez, fourth in junior girls jingle; Kalea Liebelt, fifth in junior girls jingle; Leloo Quenelle, fourth in junior girls fancy; and Marie Quenelle, fifth in junior girls traditional.

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

Additionally, Recreation Coordinator Leo Ayala hosted a 3-on-3 Contest Powwow Basketball Tournament on Saturday at Fort Yamhill State Heritage Area near the powwow grounds. Games were played between co-ed, middle and high school teams, as well as men’s and women’s teams, with prizes for first through third place.

There was also a three-point shooting contest with prizes for first through third place. Twenty-seven teams participated in the event, making for the highest turnout ever.

“It was a one-of-a-kind basketball tournament surrounded by nature,” Ayala said. “To play on top of a mountain like that surrounded by trails and trees was amazing. The day was hot, the views were amazing, the music was jamming, the vibes were immaculate and the courts were set and ready to play on the hot asphalt, so it had all the ingredients for a good outdoor basketball tournament.”

The Contest Powwow concluded Sunday, Aug. 20, with a 1 p.m. grand entry.

Publications Secretary Katherine Warren contributed to this article.

Dancers participate in an InterTribal dance under the Uyxat Powwow Grounds arbor on Saturday, Aug. 19. Thousands of people attended the powwow that was held Friday to Sunday, Aug. 18-20. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo/Smoke Signals)

2023 Grand Ronde Contest Powwow winners

Junior Girls Jingle: Alexis Payer, Yakama, first; Alimae Jackson, Yakama, second; Lilyana Johnson, Burns Paiute, third; Desirae Hernandez, Grand Ronde, fourth; and Kalea Liebelt, Grand Ronde/Klamath, fifth.

Junior Girls Fancy: Vera Johnson, Burns Paiute, first; Abi Kardatzky, Umatilla, second; Satayvah Wilson, Klamath, third; Leloo Quenelle, Madesi/Grand Ronde, fourth; and Emma Eagle Speaker, Puyallup/Blood, fifth.

Junior Girls Traditional: Leona Norwest, Warm Springs, first; Winter Harry, Paiute/Dakota, second; Aria Olney, Yakama, third; Brees VanPelt, Umatilla, fourth; and Marie Quenelle, Grand Ronde/Madesi, fifth.

Junior Boys Grass: Attii Blackhorn, Navajo/Northern Cheyenne, first; Carter Mason, Siletz, second; Grayson Walsey, Warm Springs/Dine, third; Rylan Caye, Yakama, fourth; and Trudance ButlerHill, Tutunii/Klamath Modoc, fifth.

Junior Boys Fancy: Jacoby Scabbyrobe, Nez Perce/Navajo, first; Anthyn Appawoo, Ute, second; Keanu Fast Horse-Begay, Yakama/Warm Springs, third; and Caisen Appawoo, Ute, fourth.

Junior Boys Traditional: Manpiya Mousseau, Spirit Lake Nation, first; Darryl Whiteplume, Nez Perce, second; Luke Washines, Yakama, third; Darius Walsey, Yakama, fourth; and Dravus Coin, Hopi/Navajo, fifth.

Teen Girls Jingle: Analynn Oiney, Yakama, first; Shakyla Jackson, Klamath, second; Kimora Smith, Warm Springs, third; Jasmine Barney, Navajo/Pauite, fourth; and Kaylani Estimo, Warm Springs, fifth.

Teen Girls Fancy: Claudia Suarez, Pit River, first; Valerie Scabbyrobe, Blackfeet/Yakama, second; Keeala Walsey, Dine/Warm Springs, third; Acozjah Dion, Sho-pai, fourth; and Virgilna Walsey-Begay, Yakama, fifth.

Teen Girls Traditional: Chontay-Squya English, Piikani Nation, first; Dahyiitihi White, Coeur d’Alene/Dine, second; Dymond Say, Yakama, third; Candace Whiteplume, Nez Perce, fourth; and Nevaeh Thomson, Carry the Kettle Nakonda Nation, fifth.

Teen Boys Grass: Sunhawk Barney, Navajo/Burns Pauite, first; Luka Montgomery-Gomez, Chukchansi/Washo, second; Ian Mitchell, Yakama, third; Joshee Slampson, Yakama, fourth; and Waylon Harmon, Eastern Shoshone/Ojibway, fifth.

Teen Boys Fancy: Garlan McDonald, Umatilla, first; Hoody Walsey, Yakama, second; Joe Petty, Pend Oreille/Salish, third; and Jacob Norwest, Warm Springs, fourth.

Teen Boys Traditional: Jayden Esquiro, Warm Springs, first; Leevi Running Bear, Fort Peck Sioux, second; Anton Arthur, Nez Perce, third; Sky Smith, Yakama/Navajo, fourth, and Nacoma Liebelt, Grand Ronde/Klamath, fifth;

Senior Golden Age Women: Audrey Olney, Yakama, first; Wilma Buck, Yakama, second; Ladybird Jack, Dine, third; Ruth Jim, Yakama, fourth; and Rosie Tom, Warm Springs, fifth.

Senior Golden Age Men: Peter Jo Olney, Yakama, first; Gary L. Villa, Yakama, second; Don Moccasin, Nakota, third; Adrian (no last name/Tribal affiliation available), fourth; and Dwayne Cree Medicine, Blackfeet, fifth.

Junior Golden Age Women: Maxine Alex, Dine, first; Melinda Goodwill, Dakota/Lakota, second; Cece Walsey-Begay, Yakama, third; Jena Henry, Nez Perce, fourth; and Terrie Jarrell, Pend Oreille/Salish, fifth.

Junior Golden Age Men: Darrel Paskimin, Plains Cree, first; Larry White Junior, Dine, second; Jeff Downing, Wichsa Ska, third; Rod Begay, Yakama/Dine, fourth; and Vernon Growing Thunder, Fort Peck Sioux, fifth.

Senior Womens Jingle: Bridget Eagle Speaker, Puyallup/Blood, first; Brisa Paskimin, Nawa, second; Michelle Jim, Navajo/Pueblo, third; Julie Johnson, Fort McDermitt Pauite, fourth; and Ramona Quenelle, Pit River Madesi, fifth.

Senior Womens Fancy: Card Melting Tallow, Blood, first; Urseloria Walsey, Dine, second; Josette Scholfield, Potawatomi, third; Denelle Stanley, Ute/Navajo/Shawnee/Creek, fourth; and Wetalu Henry, Nimiipuu/Warm Springs, fifth.

Senior Womens Traditional: Violet Olney, Yakama, first; Leah McGurk Brown, Dine/Mescalero, second; Tilda Walsey, Yakama, third; Marie Jackson, Yakama, fourth; and Bobbie White, Coeur d’Alene, fifth.

Senior Mens Grass: Lee Jack Jr., Dine, first; Gary Villa, Warm Springs, second; Jimmy Olney, Yakama, third; Jeremy Barney, Burns Paiute, fourth; and Francis Dion, Chippewa Cree, fifth.

Senior Mens Fancy: Gary Olney, Yakama, first; Marshall Thomson, Nakota Nation, second; and Larry Buck, Yakama/Wanapum, third.

Senior Mens Traditional: Brando Jack, Dine, first; Collin Chief, Warm Springs, second; Carlos Calica, Warm Springs, third; Jake Whiteplume, Nez Perce/Northern Arapaho, fourth; and Jarvis Stwyer, Warm Springs, fifth.

Junior Womens Jingle: Arianne Sheka, Ho-Chunk/Cheyenne Arapaho, first; Selena Jackson, Navajo, second; Sophia Turning Robe, Siksika, third; Lianna Washines, Seneca/Yakama, fourth; and Eshoni Blackwater, Rosebud Sioux, fifth.

Junior Womens Fancy: Keenas Limon, Pit River Madesi/Ojibwe, first; Cecelia Bourgeau, Rosebud Lakota, second; Persia Sloan, Navajo, third; Annie Whipple, Warm Springs, fourth; and Sofia Butler, Tutunii/Sixes/Rogue/Klamath, fifth. 

Junior Womens Traditional: Jonae Scabbyrobe, Nez Perce/Blackfeet, first; Destiny Hunt-Buck, Wanapum, second; Leah Brisbois, Grand Ronde, third; Edwina Morning Owl, Yakama/Crow, fourth; and LaRae Thomson, Carry the Kettle, fifth.

Junior Mens Grass: Jack Scabbyrobe, Blackfeet, first; Trenton Calica, Warm Springs, second; Eric Broncheau, Umatilla, third; Nate Norwest, Grand Ronde/Klamath, fourth; and Ernest Morning Owl, Yakama, fifth.

Junior Mens Fancy: Jonathan Nomee, Couer d’Alene, first; Jesse Sisk, Winnemen Wintu, second; Nakeezaka Jack, Shoban/Dine, third; Dillon Begay, Yakama, fourth; and Garrett Begay, Yakama/Dine, fifth.

Junior Mens Traditional: Saul Jurado, Siletz, first; Quindon Calica, Warm Springs, second; Kiowa Dourghty, Kiowa, third; Justus Eaglesmith, Shawnee, fourth; and Josh Running Bear, Sioux, fifth.

Drums: Wild Rose, first; Mystic Pony, second; Iron Horse, third; Battling Stone, fourth; and Dancing Eagle, fifth.