Thompson Williams, Caddo, stands up for grand entry, seeing around him the families he has known and the young men who have learned to be fathers, sometimes despite intense peer pressure.
Underscoring the dual role of Indian men as protectors and fathers, veterans lead the way into the powwow circle followed by the dancers, some accompanying children.
“We work with good parents and we make them great parents,” Williams says, welcoming everyone to the Strong Fathers Powwow.
He headed the annual two-day powwow which got under way May 28, south of Denver, at Tall Bull Memorial Grounds, a scenic area named for a family prominent in the Cheyenne Dog Soldier Society whose members vowed to stake themselves to the ground, standing in defense of their families.
A plaque in memory of the late youth advocate Lance Allrunner, Cheyenne/ Comanche/Kiowa, who had been a member of the Dog Soldier Society, was offered as one dance contest prize, Williams notes.
“Anytime you feel the world closing in on you and you feel you have to run away from things, you take your lance out and you say, ‘From here on out I do not retreat, for my family and myself,’” Allrunner used to tell groups of children who made and decorated small lances under his direction, Williams recalls.
Williams directs the Honoring Our Traditional Ways: Strong Fathers program, federally funded at the Denver Indian Family Service Center to “increase participants’ involvement in raising their children and providing healthy role models.”
Fatherhood isn’t always easy, Williams says, given that “society can look at you as a ‘wild Indian,’” often less desirable as an employee than a Native woman might be. “In this society, it’s easier to see a woman as being less threatening than a male, so educational and job opportunities open up more for women.”
So Indian men are often compromised in the role of breadwinner that society expects of them although they are of central importance to their children: “When you have a father not only present physically but emotionally, you have a powerful influence on your life.”
For the fatherless, Williams says, “through the experience of not having a father present, they do lose part of their history, part of who they are—for us it’s the loss of our culture, our history. The father—his history, who he is—makes that connection with who we were in the past. When you lose that, you lose part of yourself and you look for it in other ways.”
Generally easy-going, Williams shows a different side when it comes to young men who brag about having children they don’t help to raise and who call that “the mom’s responsibility.” Other animals may behave that way, but to be a man, “fatherhood is something you earn,” he stresses.
Why a pow wow?
“When the program began about four years ago, we began to see a lot of folks coming in who really didn’t have a grasp of their culture. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to learn, they were just unable to find anyone to teach them. I felt that a powwow was one of the ways we could get families to work together, to have fun together, and explore what their culture is. It’s a good start,” he says, smiling.