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‘This is what it’s about’
LITTLE BOSTON — The Stan Purser Memorial Powwow was more like a family gathering than anything else, and from most accounts that’s what Stan Purser wanted.
Joe Price said Purser, his grandfather, started the powwow in Little Boston almost three decades ago as a way to bring the community together during the winter months. He attended powwows outside the area and thought there should be a winter powwow close to home. And so it began, sponsored by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
When Purser, a fisherman and mill worker, passed away in 1987, the powwow was renamed in his honor and his family assumed the task of organizing and presenting it. Now, 29 years after the first powwow in Little Boston, Purser’s non-competitive gathering is a long-awaited event, with drummers and dancers and powwow-goers coming every year from all over Western Washington to share in the joy of culture and conviviality.
Roger Jackson of the Quileute Nation has been drumming at powwows for more than 50 years. “It’s a really good feeling to come to the Purser powwow,” he said.
The 29th annual powwow was Feb. 28 and March 1 in the Port Gamble S’Klallam Gym; it’s one of the first powwows of the year in the region. The powwow featured the formality of the grand entry, led by a veterans’ color guard and dancers dressed in regalia — young male fancy dancers, young female shawl dancers, women traditional dancers, girls in jingle dresses.
One highlight on March 1 was the traditional dinner of crab and cockles, for which Port Gamble S’Klallam is known.
At the Stan Purser powwow, dancers are not awarded cash prizes and drum groups receive money to cover their expenses. Because it’s not competitive, it’s a good event for children to hone their abilities. Dads and moms held babies or held hands of young ones as they danced on the floor. Some young dancers followed adults, paying attention to movements in various dances. At any one time, one of five big-drum groups drummed and sang.
“This is what it’s all about — family, drumming and singing,” master of ceremonies Mike Lee said. “This is what keeps our family well.”
Patricia Selam, Yakama, lives in Suquamish. To her, her straight traditional dance is a form of prayer — “prayer for myself, for my family, for those who have passed on, and to remember the struggles that we went through so that we can dance again,” she said.Her regalia includes beadwork made for her by her grandmother, a buckskin dress she inherited from a family friend, and moccasins.
Her grandfather sang and her grandmother danced at powwows and, as a child, she traveled the powwow trail with her family. “My grandparents, parents, all of us, we traveled as a unit,” she said. “When I go to that powwow, it’s about family, food, celebration, honoring and memorializing.”
Inside the gym and dining hall, you could find Native art, clothing, and beaded jewelry. Among the vendors were some familiar faces from the powwow trail, among them knitter Eileen Penn, Quileute, and carver Joe Ives, S’Klallam.
Outside, Joe, Jimmy and John Price made their family’s famous frybread, which attracted a line that never stopped forming.
On the powwow floor, there were games: musical chairs for children and candy tosses for different age groups. And there was, of course, powwow MC humor. When Lee called for the first group of candy toss participants, ages 0-3, he quipped, “That doesn’t mean how you act. That means your actual age.” A relief MC told a joke about a three-legged dog that walked into a bar and said, “I’m looking for the man that shot my paw ...”
The powwow was one of three powwows that weekend. Others were held at Chief Leschi School in Puyallup, and the American Indian Education Program Pow Wow at Covington Middle School in Vancouver, Wash.
Next: The 14th annual Nisqually Wellbriety Pow Wow on March 21-23 at Nisqually Youth and Community Center in Olympia.