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National Powwow honors warriors, hosts hundreds of talented dancers

WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of people will gather in Washington for a three-day celebration of American Indian dance and culture at the largest pow wow on the East Coast.

The National Powwow, hosted by the Smithsonian Museum's National Museum of the American Indian, will take place Aug. 10 - 12 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington.

Dancers in spectacular regalia from hundreds of tribal nations throughout the continent will compete for more than $125,000 in prize money. Around 100 selected Native artists and artisans will display and sell fine art, jewelry, sculpture and pottery. Speakers, side events and displays will add to the experience and expression of Native culture. Three host drum groups will showcase different styles of singing, and Native warriors will be honored.

This is the third National Powwow to be held in Washington.

''We had our first National Powwow on the Mall in September 2002, which I think was an incredible event just for the fact of its location. A lot of elders said they never thought in their lifetime that they'd be able to dance in front of the U.S. Capitol building. I still get goose bumps when I think about it,'' said Leonda Levchuk, Navajo, a National Powwow organizer.

This year, the National Powwow will honor warriors, past and present.

''We wanted to do something special this year to honor those Native people who have given their time, their service and their lives for the United States, so we thought we'd bring some special guests who will talk about warriors and warrior dances. There's a group, the Kiowa War Mothers from Oklahoma, who are coming and the women wear feather war bonnets and will get a great honor because they've had a family member who has been in the military or who died at war,'' Levchuk said.

Among individuals to be honored are John Bennett Herrington, Chickasaw, and the late Ira H. Hayes, Pima.

Herrington, a retired U.S. Navy commander, was the first American Indian in space.

Hayes was immortalized in the famous photograph of a group of Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima to claim victory over Japan in 1945 at the end of World War II. Hayes was represented by actor Adam Beach, a Saulteaux from Manitoba, Canada, in the film, ''Flags of our Fathers.''

The NMAI's traveling exhibit, ''Native Words, Native Warriors,'' will be on display during the National Powwow. The exhibit, which has been touring the country, highlights the contributions made during World War II by Native code talkers from the Navajo, Sac and Fox and other tribal nations.

The museum's current exhibition of Native women's dresses, called ''Identity by Design,'' will be on display.

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''We wanted to have an education component in addition to the dance competitions; and we actually want people to come back and forth between the pow wow and the museum, so we have a free shuttle,'' Levchuk said.

The 2002 pow wow was held outside in the hot and muggy air, so for 2005, the event was moved to a large indoor arena. More than 35,000 people attended the 2005 pow wow. An even bigger crowd is expected this year at the Verizon Center, a massive sports and entertainment venue that has hosted events such as national basketball tournaments and Rolling Stones concerts.

''We wanted to find something that was central and close to the museum that could also accommodate the thousands of people we know want to be there, because it's really something new to the East Coast audiences. They don't have the large-scale pow wow as they do out West in such places as Denver, Albuquerque or Oklahoma,'' Levchuk said.

The novelty was reflected also in vendors' sales last time, Levchuk said. Some vendors completely sold out of everything they brought.

''We couldn't believe it,'' she said. ''It was really a nice thing for the vendors to come here and do so well.''

Hundreds of vendor applications were submitted and reviewed for price, quality and quantity of their productions. More than 40 vendors were selected from all the regions of the United States and Central and South America. Native food vendors will sell Indian tacos, frybread, corn soup and other Native fare.

The dancers will compete in golden age, adults, teens, juniors and tiny tot categories in Fancy Dance and Traditional, and in Women's Jingle Dress, Fancy Shawl and Traditional in both Northern and Southern styles. More than $125,000 in prize money will be awarded to the top finalists in each category.

The host drum groups High Noon, Cree, from Alberta, Canada; Battle River, Anishinabe, from Minnesota; and Southern Thunder, Pawnee, from Oklahoma, will showcase Northern, Northern contemporary and Southern styles of singing, respectively.

A North Dakota dance troupe will perform in the mornings at the pow wow and at the museum, and a Montana couple that erected a tipi at the last event will return to paint it.

The museum will also open its Cultural Resources Center to the general public.

''We'll have tours going on throughout the day and a shuttle between the museum and center. It's a really good chance for people to get a behind-the-scenes look at where the collections are housed and all the things we do, including conservation, photo services and our library,'' Levchuk said.

The three-day National Powwow will be activity-packed and exciting, ''and it's just really a lot of fun,'' she said.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and youth aged 5 to 11; and free for children under 5. Tickets can be purchased in advance through www.ticket or at the door.