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'This is our future': Children in the spotlight at Suquamish Renewal Powwow
SUQUAMISH — There is a lot of beauty in a powwow: The music of the big drums, the high-pitch Plains-style singing, the jingle of jingle dresses, the elaborate beadwork and headdresses, each dance a mix of art and honoring and tradition.
But the most significant beauty of the powwow was apparent as the event began, as dancers queued up for the grand entry.
It was the little one who jumped out onto the floor to dance, eager to begin. It was the little one pounding a big drum in the corner, as Smokey Valley of Sto:lo Nation sang the entry song at another big drum nearby.
And so it continued. Children, not old enough for kindergarten, danced in their regalia in the Tiny Tots category. “This is our future,” master of ceremonies Antone George, Lummi Nation, said.
Little ones napped, lulled to sleep by sounds their great-great-grandparents knew, then awakened to watch dances that date back to the time before the treaties, before the efforts to force their ancestors to abandon all of this and assimilate, and still the culture survives.
This was the Suquamish Renewal Powwow, March 31, in the House of Awakened Culture. And like other powwows across the continent, this gathering was imbued with cultural and spiritual significance: Native 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 lot of fun. The event began the day before with dinner and a Coastal Jam; Coast Salish people from the region gathered with their hand drums to share songs and dances, under the watchful gaze of the carved figures on the house posts.
On powwow day, you could buy CDs of powwow music, jewelry, and handwoven items (Eileen Penn, noted Quileute weaver, was there with her fine wool hats and headbands). If you needed a bag for your drum or a Tennessee red cedar box for your feathers, this powwow was the place.
Outside, various foods teased the senses. Port Gamble S’Klallam artist Jimmy Price and his family sold frybread (with blackberry jam) and Indian tacos. An Azteca-Indian booth sold foods from Mexico (there’s nothing like menudo at a powwow). Other booths offered lumpia or pulled pork sandwiches.
Back on the floor, the house was a scene of art in motion. Each dancer’s regalia is a work of art, each including pieces passed down through generations or signifying special events or honors in a person's life.
Some women wore embroidered capes or shawls over dresses fringed with jingles — rolled up snuff-can lids that are hung with ribbon, with the ribbon sewed to the dress. The jingles are placed close enough so they can hit together, causing a beautiful sound.
Irvin Tso, Navajo, of Pendleton, Ore., wore an elaborately beaded frontlet and vest that took six months to create, a beaded headband and a headdress made of raven feathers, blue grouse feathers, and hackles.
J.C. Allen-Tackett, Iroquois/Cherokee, of Silverdale, wore bead necklaces and a wolf pelt headdress, and carried an eagle-wing fan in one hand and a tomahawk in the other.
Male fancy dancers wore elaborate regalia which included beaded headbands with rosettes, feather and ribbon bustles, and beaded cuffs and epaulettes, and moccasins. The colors have meaning, representing Mother Earth and the dancer’s clan or family.
According to powwow organizer Craig Miller, the powwow is presented by Suquamish Youth Services to celebrate healthy lifestyles, hence the “renewal” theme.
A big part of renewal is gratitude, and gratitude was abundant here. At the beginning of the powwow, Tekamthi Saluskin, 21, Yakama, sang a Native American Church prayer song in Sahaptin, the Yakama language, asking for the Creator’s blessing on the day. He said the song came from his cousin, Albert Olney.
Clarissa Betancourt was honored for her service as Miss Renewal Powwow Tiny Tot Princess. All of the Renewal Powwow royalty represent Suquamish at various powwows and other functions, and are role models to their community (Clarissa participated in the Canoe Journey and in coastal jams). To offer thanks for her experience, Clarissa and her family gave gifts to everyone at the powwow.
The Suquamish event featured some familiar faces on the powwow circuit. Smokey Valley has been singing on the west coast of North America since 1994, and is marketed by Sounds of Manataka. Arena director Sonny Eagle Speaker, Simnasho, is a well-known hand-drummer and singer. Antone George, the master of ceremonies, is a popular voice on the local powwow circuit, keeping the events moving along with his steady dialogue and humor. Calling on Seattle Intertribal drum group to begin a song, he said, “Let’s keep those dancers dancing, those feathers moving and those bustles bustling.” After one particularly energetic song, he said, “That was a good song, boys. You made me sweat and I’m just sitting here.”
Suquamish’s next powwow is during Chief Seattle Days, the third weekend in August. Other powwows in the area include the 41st annual UW Spring Powwow, April 20-22 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, 3870 Montlake Blvd. NE, Seattle; Edmonds Community College’s 27th annual Powwow, May 4-6, at Seaview Gym; the Rainbow of Ribbons Powwow, Sept. 29, at Auburn High School, 800 Fourth St. Auburn; the Tulalip Veterans Powwow, first weekend in June; and the 26th annual Seafair Indian Days Powwow, the third weekend in July, at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle.