'A good healing feeling': Suquamish gym filled for two-day Renewal Powwow

J.C. Allen-Tackett, Iroquois/Eastern Band of Cherokee, of Silverdale, dances Northern Traditional style at the Suquamish Renewal Powwow, April 2 at the Suquamish gym.  - Richard Walker
J.C. Allen-Tackett, Iroquois/Eastern Band of Cherokee, of Silverdale, dances Northern Traditional style at the Suquamish Renewal Powwow, April 2 at the Suquamish gym.
— image credit: Richard Walker

SUQUAMISH – The music began before the drumming, really. It was in the ching-ching-ching of jingles on dresses, the swoosh of eagle feathers on fans and headdresses, the rainbow of elaborate beadwork, the shuffle of moccasins as the dancers queued up for the grand entry.

Then, on the big drum, the White Lodge Singers from Mandaree, N.D. offered a grand entry song in that familiar high-pitch Plains style of singing, and the dancers – representing indigenous nations from throughout the U.S. and Canada – entered the room.

This was the Suquamish Renewal Powwow, April 1-2, in the Suquamish gym on Sandy Hook Road. Like other powwows across the continent, this gathering was imbued with cultural and spiritual significance: American Indian/First Nations dance is a form of prayer, a way to honor and respect the ancestors by keeping the breath of Native ways alive, a time to dance in the way of the grandparents and great-grandparents.

It’s also a showcase of elaborate regalia, each a work of art, each sacred because of pieces passed down through generations or signifying special events or honors in a person's life.

J.C. Allen-Tackett, a 29-year-old Iroquois/Cherokee living in Silverdale, dances Northern Traditional style. He said many of the feathers on his regalia were gifted to him. His regalia includes an eagle-feather headdress fringed with deer hair, a bustle with eagle and pheasant feathers, and leggings with deer hooves. He carries an eagle-wing fan in one hand and a cow-horn staff in the other.

“When I’m preparing to dance, I’m thinking of people who need a prayer,” he said. “When I’m dancing, I’m in a different place.”

Allen-Tackett has danced in powwows since he was 9, and has danced in Oregon, Montana, Virginia and Washington.

While dancing is a form of honoring, it’s also athletic and competitive and fun.

“Oh, yes, I don’t think I’d be dancing if it wasn’t fun,” Allen-Tackett said.

Powwow organizer Craig Miller said the event was presented by Suquamish Youth Services to celebrate healthy lifestyles, hence the “renewal” theme. The two-day powwow drew a crowd of between 200 and 300 people. There was jackpot dancing in all categories, a royalty pageant, sobriety honoring, and a hand-drumming contest.

The Suquamish event featured some familiar faces on the powwow circuit, as well as some emerging talent. White Lodge was founded in the 1950s, performs across the continent and is signed with Sweet Grass Records. Master of ceremonies Francis James, Sto:lo, is lead singer with Smokey Valley. Arena director Sonny Eagle Speaker, Simnasho, is a well-known hand-drummer and singer. Renewal Powwow princess Bella King, Salish-Kootenai, is a young actress with roles in the new film “Red Riding Hood” and the TV series “Smallville.”

James injected his humor into the event. He prompted White Lodge with, “Give us a song, boys. We’re gonna make you drum for all that food you ate this morning.” He kidded a young hand drummer, “You’re not old enough to be singing a song like that.”

As the Tiny Tots danced and a young boy joined Rocking Horse drum group at the big drum, Suquamish artist Ed Carrier reflected on how powwows breathe life into the culture.

“These little babies, that’s the idea – have them out there and have them involved,” Carrier said. He watched as a mom took her child on the floor when she danced. “His eyes were so big, he was taking in everything. It’s nice to see things like that. So many kinds of things today, children are told you can’t do this or you can’t do that. With powwow dancing, it’s not restrictive. You just go out there.”

Carrier, who liked to dance the Squirrel Dance when he was younger, said powwows contribute to a “good healing feeling.”

“There’s a lot of learning in bringing people together – the different songs and dances, all of the beautiful regalia.”

Suquamish’s next powwow is in August during Chief Seattle Days. Other powwows in the area include the 40th annual First Nations Powwow, April 8-10 at University of Washington; the Edmonds Community College Powwow, May 6-8; the Rainbow of Ribbons Powwow, May 13-14 at Green River Community College in Auburn; the Tulalip Veterans Powwow, June 3-5; and the 26th annual Seafair Indian Days Powwow, July 15-16, at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle.


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