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Native culture on wide-ranging display

Traditional Pow Wow, basket artists, Hawaiian guitar festival bring traditions to life

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 4, 2016, 6:06am
11 Photos
Colorful regalia makes every pow wow a feast for the eyes.
Colorful regalia makes every pow wow a feast for the eyes. (Columbian files) Photo Gallery

North Dakota native William “Buddy” Jollie, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the founder of local landmark Jollie’s Restaurant, was 84 years old when he died peacefully at home in Ridgefield — in his favorite chair, reportedly — on Aug. 12, 2014.

So his son, Dave, wasn’t able to honor him properly during last March’s annual Traditional Pow Wow at Covington Middle School. The custom is that you must wait at least one year after an elder’s death to hold the traditional mourning dance and sing the honor song, Dave Jollie said. March 2015 was too soon. Jollie said he’s eager to see his father’s picture and feel his father’s spirit during the upcoming 2016 Traditional Pow Wow, scheduled for March 5.

He’s also eager to honor the two head dancers at the pow wow: 13-year-old Justice Florendo, a student at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, and 15-year-old Kat McAllister, who attends Columbia River High School. Head dancers are selected based on outstanding citizenship and leadership as well as dancing prowess; these two are younger than most head dancers, and that’s a testament to their character and determination, Jollie said.

“It’s quite the deal. They will represent us well at the pow wow,” he said.

If you go

What: Third annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival featuring LT Smooth, Bobby Moderow, Ian O'Sullivan, Stephen Inglis, Donald Kaulia, Chris Lau and local talent Kaloku Holt. Harry B. Soria will emcee.
When: 2 p.m. March 6.
Where: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St., Vancouver.
Cost: $30 in advance, $40 at the door.
Tickets, information:www.kekukuifoundation.org
What: Annual Traditional Pow Wow featuring drumming, dancing, regalia and song; artisans and food.
When: Noon to 10:30 p.m. March 5.
Where: Covington Middle School, 11200 N.E. Rosewood Ave., Vancouver.
Cost: Free.
Contact: 360-604-4339.

What: Contemporary Native Basketry exhibit featuring the works of 13 renowned contemporary Native artists from across the country.
When: Runs though April 23, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Where: Archer Gallery, Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.
Cost: Free.

What’s a pow wow? A festival of traditional dancing, drumming, singing, food, customs, arts and crafts.

“It’s natives sharing their traditional customs with the public, natives and non-natives alike,” said Jollie, one of the key organizers. “It’s all day long and it’s free. You can come and go as you please.”

Two drum groups are definitely on tap and a handful more are expected, but Jollie never knows how many will turn up. One time there were 16 different drum groups from all across the nation, he said.

That marks an incredible resurgence of Native American culture in recent decades, he added. Back in his father’s day, a group of Indians who gathered in public to drum and sing “would probably get arrested,” he quipped. Today, noisy, prideful and colorful pow wows are held coast to coast, all year long.

Don’t miss at least one of the two solemn and spectacular “Grand Entry” parades, scheduled for 1 and 6 p.m. There will be a dinner break and a special Chinook “canoe presentation” performance at 5 p.m. The honor song for William Jollie will be at 7 p.m., his son said.

Basket artists

You could spend the whole weekend catching up with the indigenous cultures that inhabited this part of the world long before white people showed up. Take a break from the pow wow’s excitement March 5 and pop over to Clark College’s Archer Gallery, where an exhibit of contemporary native basketry opened on March 1.

“Woven” features the works of 13 basket artists based everywhere from Hawaii to Michigan and Portland to Tulsa, Okla. Archer Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Several of the artists will be there on the first weekend in April for a reception, discussion and weaving workshops. (Look for a Columbian story later this month focused on the exhibit and artists’ visit.)

Sweet sounds

Finally, on March 6, relax and wriggle your hips while the warm, friendly sound of slack key guitars washes over you like the tropical waters of Hawaii.

It was not long after guitars first arrived at that isolated outpost in the early 1800s that this especially luscious technique developed there. One hundred years later, a Hawaiian music craze on the mainland started transforming the slack key sound into pop — with commercial hits “My Little Grass Shack” and “The Hukilau Song” and probably the most famous Hawaiian melody of all, “Aloha Oe,” which was written by Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch and a prolific composer of classics.

Why is it called slack key? Because you loosen, or slacken, your guitar strings from standard tuning until they are in automatic harmony — usually an open G-major chord that sounds sweet and full as can be without fretting anything on the neck. When you do start fretting, you’ve got a lush major-key backdrop already built in — a beautiful setting for delicate, dancing finger-style playing.

This slack key festival, an annual traveling show, is a favorite of acoustic guitar worshippers and anybody else who loves that sweet Hawaiian vibe.

It features some of Hawaii’s top musicians, and the Vancouver stop also will include local guitarist and singer Kaloku Holt, the son of “Granny” Deva Leinani Yamashiro. She’s the founder of hosting organization the Ke Kukui Foundation, a Vancouver cultural and educational nonprofit that promotes Hawaiian and Polynesian culture on the mainland.