Tribes gather for March Powwow
Drums, song and dance fill Denver Coliseum during 3-day gathering
Beaten drums and songs filled the Denver Coliseum on Saturday as hundreds entered dancing, wrapping around the floor and circling the color guard and veterans.
The dancers represented tribes from all over the United States and Canada, wearing traditional headdresses, moccasins, breastplates and shawls that varied in style and color depending on the dancer’s tribe and dance specialty. Participants ranged from seniors to some so young they had to be carried by their parents.
The three-day Denver March Powwow has come a long way from when it started as a one-afternoon event 43 years ago, master of ceremonies Lawrence Baker said.
“This is a family, so we’re always going to be here,” he said. “We’re just continuing on what was taught to us: positivity, love, encouragement, family.”
For many of the indigenous people in attendance, the event is an annual affair, a time to catch up with old friends, make new ones and talk about those who have passed or those who are up to great things, he said.
“I think it’s a great opportunity, especially being in a city,” Pueblo resident Raul Figueroa said. “It brings native people together and connects us, different tribes, different communities, different ways of life.”
Figueroa, who is from both Sioux and Assiniboine tribes, started going to powwows when he was 6. His grandparents took him to some all over northern Montana. They taught him how to dance and he helped teach his son, 17-year-old Jarod — a common pattern among many of the dancers.
Figueroa’s wife painted his and Jarod’s faces while they prepared for their respective dances. Raul would be competing in the men’s northern traditional dance while Jarod would be competing in the teen’s grass dancing.
Dancers were broken into groups based on age and style of dance. All the dancers in a particular category would perform at the same time while judges (and the stadium crowd) looked on.
Raul and Jarod Figueroa weren’t nervous about dancing, both chuckling at the idea.
“The drum is like the heartbeat of Mother Earth. When you go in there, it’s a sense of healing,” said Figueroa, a military veteran. “It’s a way to heal from what I’ve done in war. It’s a way to tell my story.”
Keya Clairmont was born and raised in Denver and has been going to the powwow since she was born. She’s from the Sicangu Lakota, Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota, Taos Pueblo, Meskwaki and Leech Lake Ojibwe tribes.
“You get to just experience the celebration of life — really, that’s what it is for us, that’s why we dance,” said Clairmont, 22.
Since she was 13, she wanted to be the Denver March Powwow princess — as did every other young girl, she said.
A new princess is announced at the powwow every year. The honor is given to girls who come every year, dance, attend school, stay alcohol- and drug-free and are good role models. But the princess doesn’t necessarily know they are going to be crowned. Powwow officials discreetly ask the family whether their daughter would say yes — one committee member noted that no one ever says no. They then surprise the girl at the powwow.
Clairmont was chosen last year, when she was a student at the University of Denver. Clairmont said she wasn’t expecting to be chosen, saying most princesses are seniors in high school. But nonetheless, it was an honor to represent both her family and tribes.
She and others urged non-natives to come experience the powwow, describing it as a way to learn the truth about native culture.
“You learn so much here that you don’t in your public school or book,” Clairmont said.
The powwow concludes Sunday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The grand entry begins at 11 a.m.
Clairmont, whose Lakota name is Makes People Happy Through Her Dancing, will be performing an outgoing special, probably around 4 p.m. The coronation of the 2017 princess will follow. Tickets are $7. Tickets for those 60 and older are $3. Children 6 and younger are free.
Timothy Gabbard, 10, of Moorhead, Minn., and a member of the Dakota Tribe, dances during the Jr. Boys Fancy Bustle Dance during the Denver March Powwow at the Denver Coliseum on Saturday. Photos by Joe Amon, The Denver Post
An American Indian waits to compete during the Denver March Powwow.