Ready-for-Release #3 — RODEO POW WOW
by Lee Allen
There are numerous theories about the origin of powwows. The word itself is derived from the Algonquian term ‘pau-wau’ that referred to a religious ceremony which later added speechmaking, gift giving, and a feast. Because traditional Native dances were made illegal by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1890s, it’s difficult to define the exact beginnings of powwow celebrations.
But one thing is known for sure. No matter how or when they came into being, Indian powwows were a traditional part of Indian rodeos — the two went hand-in-hand. Over time, for a variety of reasons, the twin events began to drift apart as larger powwows and professional indoor rodeo events evolved into different entities.
Now they’re back together again with the announcement by Indian National Finals Rodeo of a companion event this fall — an INFR Powwow — in Las Vegas. “For over 40 years, INFR has crowned World Champions in the rodeo circuit. Now, for the first time ever, we’ll be crowning World Champions of powwow,” says INFR Commissioner Frank Whitecalfe (MHA Nation-North Dakota) mastermind behind the reunion. “Rebuilding a community through rodeo and powwow is something long-overdue.”
Three days of powwow will run alongside five days of Indian rodeo the week of November 8-12.
“When I was a kid attending roping and riding events,” says the long-time champion steer wrestler,“I remembered that all rodeos had powwows, so two years ago we began discussing the possibility of returning one to our rodeo. Much research was done, lots of consultations took place with notable powwow dancers and head staff and dialogue began with existing major powwows across the country.
“While Las Vegas is an entertainment draw, there’s not a lot of diehard rodeo people in its general population and we needed to bring more in more people who had a familiarity with rodeo — and powwows.” Organizers theorized that if reservation powwows could attract several thousand attendees and others, like the Gathering of Nations powwow, could draw upwards of 18,000, a combination of INFR rodeo and powwow in Vegas could do the same.
“We have no statistics to base any projections on because this has never been done before, but my guestimate based on tribal response in both the U.S. and Canada is that we could have between 10,000-15,000 attendees in our first attempt.”
“The idea has taken off and we already have more than 200 dancers signed up with expectations that that number will grow to between 600-700.” And drums, the heartbeat and central pulse of Native American powwows? “Nine drums have already been accepted,” Whitecalfe says, with the anticipation of a possible 12-15 drums at the event. “It’s an idea that’s already flying beyond the ‘will it work’ category into a worry about will it grow too big, too fast — and that’s a nice kind of problem to have.”
A Youth Day celebration will kick things off on November 9th with powwow finals on November 10-11 (in advance of the INFR Rodeo Finals on November 12). “The whole idea is to allow people to be able to see both events,” says Whitecalfe.
Over $15,000 in dance prize money will be awarded in adult male and female categories. Women will compete in jingle dance; Northern traditional; Southern buckskin/cloth, and fancy shawl, while men will perform grass dances; chicken dances; Southern straight; Northern traditional, and fancy feather. The tribe with the most winning dancers earns the title of Overall Tribal World Champion.
“This is an end-of-the-year grand finale, the World Series and the Super Bowl rolled into one,” Whitecalfe says. “The time has come!”
Daily Grand Entry is at noon at the Freemont District’s Cashman Center. Tribal memberships are available at www.INFPWORLDCHAMP.com or by calling (701) 460 6691.