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First-time head judge is honored

GREEN BAY, Wis. - For the first time, Wayne Silas Jr. has been chosen as head singing judge - and this for the National Powwow at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Silas, Menomonee and Wisconsin Oneida, has been involved with pow wows for three decades. For the last 12 years, he has been chosen as a head dance judge, but never as a singing judge before this.

''I am very honored and grateful and kind of excited and thankful they chose me to do a job like that. It's always an honor, and you can't really turn it down,'' Silas said.

Silas started dancing at an early age and is now a singer. Now his children, ages 5, 2 and 4 months, are making the circuit.

A person who has traveled all across the country and competed in pow wows has not only acquired the credentials to be a head judge, but has also developed the character to be fair and honest. That helps a person understand and respect other nations' different styles and customs around the drum and the circle, he said.

''It keeps my life in balance. It's something that I go on and learn and I can pass on to my children,'' he said. ''They are all familiar with the pow wow circle. My two oldest kids dance and they know the dos and don'ts which keeps us together as a family and spiritually.''

Silas and his family pow wow year-round, almost every weekend with fewer weekends in the winter. Because he travels across the country to pow wows, he is known throughout the circuit and considers those people to be an extended family.

Silas had to choose the singing judges for the National Powwow, and that is not an easy task.

''I have to make sure there is a good variety of different people as far as their interest and knowledge of music. I have to pick people who know good singing and appropriate singing that fits a certain category or age group,'' he said.

The importance of appropriate music for each age group or category is paramount. For example, he said, the drum or singing group has to be able to know which group they are playing for. If there is a golden age dance, the singers should not select a long and slow dance because the older dancers may tire out more quickly.

He chose experienced singers as judges, those who are not in the competition and also don't have any biases toward any particular group or style. Picking a judge is more than finding someone who is knowledgeable about the many different styles of singing; it is also about the personality of the judge.

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''I have to know if they are going to be straight up and fair and I have to know if they know what is appropriate. A lot of people have issues because the pow wow circuit is like a soap opera: 'Somebody in this group is going on with someone in that group and I can't let them judge that group.' That does happen in a lot of places,'' he said.

''I like to use well-known dancers, accredited for having a good reputation, a good personality and people who know what they like to dance to.''

The singing judges at the National Powwow have been selected from among the most knowledgeable and fair judges in the country, according to Silas' criteria.

In addition to which judges would be appropriate and knowledgeable, the number of judges is important. The head judge needs to know how many go-arounds there will be, and what guidelines will be established by the pow wow committee. Sometimes the specifics are left up to the head judge, sometimes decided by the committee.

Silas said the more judges, the fairer the judging will be. It's not unlikely that a Southern singer will be asked to judge Northern singing.

''I was considering using a few Southern people as long as I know they know what to look for in Northern singing. You really have to look deep into each person,'' Silas said.

Silas is an artist and performer who takes his skills and his art as a singer and dancer to many different venues. Most recently he performed at the Grand Canyon West's new Skywalk, which overlooks the Grand Canyon.

He has a bachelor's degree in elementary education, has worked with Upward Bound and, through performing, he continues to educate.

''For a young man, I have learned a lot and know what to look for,'' he said.

Silas' favorite pow wow is the Schemitzun pow wow in Connecticut, but he also attends traditional pow wows. The most meaningful pow wow he attends is in Keshena, where his family is from.

''It's a feeling of coming home every time,'' he said.