The Julyamsh pow wow dancers enter the arena five and six abreast in blazes
of color - the men revolving like slow kaleidoscopes and the women stately
and proud, moving slowly to the steady heartbeat and insistent vocals of
lead drum Black Lodge. They keep dancing in until there are hundreds of
them in the infield of the Post Falls, Idaho race track, in a long
brilliant horseshoe that throws back to where they entered.
I've missed the sensational horse and rider entrance, the decorated ponies
and their riders galloping up to the review stand and back out again, but
the Grand Entry of dancers is in itself an awesome and emotional event.
Though it is 100 degrees and the sun is bearing down from a thin blue Idaho
sky, none of the dancers, from the oldest to the youngest, shows any
discomfort or gives any signal how hot it must be under their bright and
vivid outfits, the feathers, the bustles, the leggings, the jingles.
The Coeur d'Alene tribe, whose summer encampment this is, has come back to
its traditional homeland for this celebratory weekend. I can sense a
palpable feeling of joy in the air, a happiness that goes beyond their
traditional July hunting and fishing meetings (and later July 4
They are reclaiming lost territory, coming back into their traditional
place and strength. And the dancers, from near and far, seem to respond to
this. In their prayerful regalia, in their quickfooted pride and strength,
in their obliviousness to the heat, they are wonderful and beautiful.
Master of Ceremonies Dale Old Horn proudly shows off each group as it
passes the review stand and the drum tents. There are the Eagle Staff
bearer, the American and Canadian flag bearers, a veteran with a POW-MIA
banner, the Head Man and Head Woman dancers (Spike Draper, New Mexico;
Dine, six-time Julyamsh dance champion; and Tisa Pinkman, Nez Perce), and
Marcy Williams, Miss Julyamsh. Then parading past are the elders, Golden
Age dancers, Northern and Southern Traditional dancers from Oklahoma and
the Northern Plains, Grass dancers, Women's Traditional dancers, Men's
Fancy Feather dancers, Women's Fancy Shawl dancers. Old Horn is especially
fond and proud of the oldest and the youngest of the dancers.
As the opening ceremonies begin, rafts of umbrellas spring up in the stands
to stymie the sun, and a stiff wind whips around the American flags and
ribbons that decorate the pow wow grounds like displays of living energy.
There are words from the tribal chair, Ernie Stensgar, an Honor song, a
Flag song, acknowledgement of VIPs, and the spectacular feather pickup that
starts the dance competition.
Here, in a Northern Plains tradition, four veterans in regalia make a
square around a feather placed on the ground. They dance in place for what
seems to be a very long time, the tension building, and then they make
three exquisite passes before one of them finally picks up the feather.
Though the dancers are uncomplaining on the sunny field, I am not as
durable. Retreating to the air conditioning of the interior grandstand, I
see the pow wow ground laid out before me.
The horseshoe of the arena is surrounded by several other semicircles, the
first made up of reviewing and spectator stands. Around them are wedges of
booths, craft vendors to the left and food vendors to the right, plying
such traditional pow wow foods as frybread, Indian tacos, curly fries,
elephant ears, corn dogs and buffalo wings. Loosely attached to the
proceedings are the tents, tipis and trailers of the encampment.
A long red streamer whips around in the hypnotic wind, and in the hot
trance of the day I can see that beyond the prosaic greyhound track that
has been so changed for a short time it's easy to imagine a natural
horseshoe of surrounding land that runs back to the framing, heart-stopping
mountains of Idaho. The perfection of it dawns on me slowly- the
semicircles of the pow wow ground fit into the larger, natural one like
coins into a slot.
And the perfection extends, generously, beyond the enduring dancers working
and blending into the clarity of a spectacular Idaho summer afternoon. It
extends to each of us there, no matter what background or condition, no
matter from how near or far away.
We all have our place in a beautiful universe, and it is a good day to be