VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – As millions of people poured into Washington, D.C. to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Indian country had its share of celebrants. American Indians embarked on D.C. and the majority, if not all, attended the American Indian Society’s 11th Inaugural Powwwow.
Tribal members, chiefs, council members and chairpersons from all over the United States including Alaska, came together in a celebration of culture, friendship and the renewing of old acquaintances while demonstrating their best and brightest traditional regalia at the Crystal City Hyatt Regency, in Alexandria, Va.
Mitchell Bush, Onondaga/Mohawk, AIS organizer, committee member and Lifetime Legacy Award winner at the event took a moment to speak with Indian Country Today regarding the array of activities at the pow wow.
“It sure was nice to see a lot of tribal leaders and tribal members. However, the thing that really impressed me was that there were so many young Indian kids here that are interested in public policy. The youngsters are going to be the ones that are going to be the connection between the old ways and the new ways.” – Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell
“This has been a wonderful event so far; there was an elder circle held earlier followed by a gourd dance and then the Alaskan Natives performed. There are also about a dozen princesses at the senior and junior level in attendance and many people in regalia. We also have about 15 to 20 vendors, which are primarily local.”
“The [American Indian Inaugural Ball] committee was extremely well represented by Indian country. There were over 20 tribes represented to include the Eastern Shawnee, Mojave, Oklahoma Cherokee, Onondaga, Pawnee, Kiowa and many others from across the country.”
“This has been quite an undertaking to put this together,” said Clayton Old Elk, Crow Tribe of Montana, who served as the advisor and coordinator of extracurricular activities for the pow wow. “I remember, there were no pow wows in the ’70s; sometimes we had dances, but they were very small. In the ’90s we saw the rebirth of many pow wows. Popularity and money have helped to strengthen pow wows, because of dance contests, more dancers now come to compete. Now young kids emulate these professional dancers.”
Old Elk was excited to see the AIS pow wow begin, with hundreds in attendance for Grand Entry.
After a celebratory day of Gourd Dancing and other activities, pow wow attendees filled the main ballroom to standing room only as the Indian color guards began.
After Grand Entry there was a flag song then an opening prayer by Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians. The posting of the colors and a veterans song recognizing all veterans followed.
The rest of the evening, which Keith Colston, Tuscarora/Lumbee, and Sandon Jacobs, Waccamaw-Siouan, emceed, included celebratory and competitive dances like a Tiny Tots dance, inter-tribal’s, Indian Two-Step, junior girls and boys, northern women and men’s Traditional, women’s Jingle Dress, Men’s Grass, Fancy Shawl, women’s Southern Traditional, men’s Southern Straight and opening and closing Round Dances.
There were also special songs honoring the Native Youth Alliance and tribal leaders and representatives of national Indian organizations. The drum groups performed to the appreciation of the crowd.
At the end of the event, Ernie Stevens Jr., president of the National Indian Gaming Association conducted the closing prayer.
“It sure was nice to see a lot of tribal leaders and tribal members,” said former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who participated in the pow wow. “However, the thing that really impressed me was that there were so many young Indian kids here that are interested in public policy. The youngsters are going to be the ones that are going to be the connection between the old ways and the new ways.”
Arena Director Echohawk Neconie, Kiowa/Pawnee/Otoe-Missouria, and host of the Southern Drum of the Blackbear Singers in Arlington, Va., said the evening ran smoothly.
“Everything turned out just great. There were between six and eight drum groups and many
Business was not too bad either. However, with all costs considered, the AIS, a small volunteer organization that offers scholarship programs to Native youth, may still have to foot the bill for a large part of the inaugural festivities.
With expenses totaling more than $20,000 and total intake of about $16,000 from vendors and the sale of merchandise, AIS will have to pay the difference.
Bush said the silent auction at the pow wow would help fund the educational scholarships for Native students. However, in a gesture of generosity, Bush, after being awarded the Lifetime Legacy Award, carrying a cash prize of $2,500, donated the money to the AIS scholarship fund.
“We give between 8 and 12 scholarships a year. We always take donations, one day we hope to collect $1 million, so that the interest alone can pay for these scholarships to help native students better themselves.”
Keevin Lewis, Navajo, is the scholarship chairman of the AIS in Washington and oversees the committee which reviews applications. “We give money to students to better themselves. We raise money on our own and through silent auctions. The
Nanticoke Powwow (in Millsboro, Del.) is our largest fundraiser.”
However, with everything said, the volunteers deserve the most credit for the success of the pow wow.
“We have a small, all-volunteer staff and everyone is doing this on their own time,” said Karen Mallicoat-Rodriguez, Apache secretary of the AIS. “We do this to give a wonderful showcase for Native talent.”
Manuel Rodriguez, Comanche/Cheyenne/Apache/Aztec, committee member and volunteer served as a testament to the words of those commending the volunteers. Throughout the pow wow, Rodriguez could be seen running back and forth helping with a myriad of activities, wherever and whenever he was needed. “I love to help; and whatever they tell me to do, I do it.”
Thanks to people like him, the pow wow was a success.
Photos by Vincent Schilling
Tribal leaders and members from across the country packed the Crystal City Hyatt Regency in Alexandria, Va. for the American Indian Society’s 11th Inaugural Powwow. Those in attendance enjoyed traditional performances in some of the brightest traditional regalia around.