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Drumming in the Desert: Arizona’s Pow Wow for Every Age


“There’s nothing like dancing outdoors on Mother Earth,” said Arizona State University Pow Wow Master of Ceremonies Dennis Bowen, Sr. (Seneca). He will leave cooler New York temperatures to preside over the event, April 17-19, in already-warm Tempe, Arizona.

Bowen, a veteran MC, is a familiar face in Arizona. He emceed last year’s event, and the 2013 Salt River Veteran’s Recognition Pow Wow. He knows the territory, and understands the history behind the event. “We have to remember that the original purpose for gatherings like this was to honor people or celebrate something like a harvest or a planting or the return of protectors,” Bowen told ICTMN.

The pow wow is a highlight of Native American Week on the ASU campus. “This is a special event because it highlights the growing Native American student population here,” said pow wow coordinator Tahnee Baker (Navajo/Apache). “Events like this acknowledge the Native student presence, and help promote our cultural diversity awareness.”

According to the school’s pow wow committee, “The contemporary pow wow is a link to the past that helps maintain Native heritage. Seen by outsiders as entertainment because of the singing, dancing, and colorful regalia, the pow wow is a spiritual legacy with other family members and friends; a time when Indians reflect on tradition, honoring the past and celebrating the future.”

Not only do pow wow goers come to spend some time in the sunshine, they are drawn here by the familiarity of the drum groups chosen, which add excitement and energy to the competition. This year’s Northern drum host is Young Bear from Mandaree, North Dakota, who will be recording a new album live at the event. The Young Bear group won the Northern World Class Championship title at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2012, and repeated the win in 2014.

An Arizona group, YB Style, will perform as host Southern drum while another familiar Arizona face, Larry Brown (San Carlos Apache), was named head gourd dancer. This year’s arena director, a 40-year veteran grass dancer and pow wow director, is Darrell Goodwill from Standing Buffalo, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The three-day pow wow will cover a lot of dance styles and specials, ranging from junior and teen boys’ Southern Straight, to women’s Northern Traditional, teen girls’ Fancy Shawl, women’s Jingle Dress, men’s and teen boys Grass dance, and even a cowboy and cowgirl Dance.

“We had 500 registered dancers last year competing for about $20,000 in prize money and those numbers will be about the same this year,” says Baker, a second-year coordinator whose father, Lee Williams, directed the pow wow for 20 years.

A number of dancing events have been scheduled for performers of all ages. The Tiny Tots, age 5 and under, have their own Saturday night pow wow, complete with a junior version of the grand entry, and victory song. And the rest of the age groups: junior girls, teen girls (13-17), junior and teen boys (in the same age groups), men and women (ages 18-49) and Golden Age men and women (50 and older), will put on their own shows as well.

In addition to arena performances, a variety of arts and crafts are offered for sale with authenticity guaranteed, as all Native American artists are required to show their proof of enrollment. Free admission is available for spectators under 6, and over 60 years of age.

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