Central Arizona’s tiny Yavapai Nation (950 enrolled members on a 40-square mile reservation) is about to get an influx of visitors that will double, triple or perhaps even quadruple its population.
The Yavapai Nation’s Fort McDowell Casino Pow Wow in early April is themed, “Celebrating a 30-Year Winning Streak.”
“We decided five years ago, when we hit our 25th anniversary of casino operations, that we wanted to do something different,” said pow wow coordinator and former councilmember Gwen Bahe, Yavapai/Kickapoo, to ICTMN. “Because tribes have always celebrated when they’ve done something significant…we decided the social and competitive dance nature of a pow wow would be appropriate.”
On April 4-6, dancers from across America will head to the sunny, warm environs outside Phoenix, Arizona, to break fry bread, renew acquaintances, and dance their moccasins off competing for $75,000 in prize money in adult dance categories that pay from $1,000 for 1st place to $200 for 5th place.
“If it wasn’t for the tribe, there wouldn’t be a casino, and if it wasn’t for the casino, there wouldn’t be a pow wow,” said Director of Casino Marketing, Tom McGill. “We started this five years ago to give back to the community as a display of our heritage and what actually happens in Indian Country. It’s both entertaining and educational and while our hotel and a lot of other lodging facilities are sold out, there will be a lot of slot machines available.”
“Despite the growth and success of this 5-year-old pow wow, we call it our ‘Baby Step Pow Wow’ because it was the first we had ever done at our casino,” Bahe said. “Because we are a gaming facility and our entertainment is 21-and-over, we only do adult category dances. That doesn’t mean the little ones can’t dance, just that we don’t offer children’s category competition.”
This one is a biggie and dancers are expected to show up from the cold climes: Montana, North and South Dakota, Colorado, as well as states like Florida, California, New Mexico and a large contingent from Oklahoma tribes known for pow wow participation. “Our Northern Head Staff MC is Terry Fiddler from Redwing, Minnesota, who told us that he couldn’t wait for the chance to escape the snow and ice, take off four layers of clothing, and put on cutoffs and a Hawaiian shirt to enjoy the event,” Bahe said.
In addition to the fun, food, and festivities, there’s a lot of history here with a tribe whose reservation was designated in 1903 and marks a portion of ancestral territory of nomadic bands.
“We’re a humble people who lived off the land whose lives have changed and enhanced the life of each tribal member because of the success of our gaming efforts. People don’t understand that we were the first tribe to actually get into gaming,” Bahe said. “You don’t hear of other tribes being in gaming until we took a stand, came forth with the tribe, and pushed the initiative to have Indian gaming on a reservation. We paved the way for others to enter the field and become prosperous through gaming.”
And Bahe extends an invitation for all to enjoy the Yavapai tribe’s sunshine and to help celebrate 30 years of success.
“The willingness to share with neighbors is a central facet of Yavapai culture,” said Fort McDowell Yavapai Tribal Council member Gerald Doka. “For Natives, there is no better way to celebrate than with a pow wow -- singing, drumming, dancing, prayer, and honoring.”