Tribes gather for March Pow­wow

Drums, song and dance fill Den­ver Coli­seum dur­ing 3-day gath­er­ing

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Danika Wor­thing­ton Danika Wor­thing­ton: dwor­thing­ton@ den­ver­, 303-954-1337 or @dani_­worth

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.

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