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News / Clark County News

Dancers in step with heritage at Traditional Pow Wow

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 3, 2018, 9:50pm
4 Photos
Louis Kameroff of Vancouver and of the Yupik and Modoc tribes, center, and Corey Nasewytewa of Beaverton, Ore., and of the Hopi and Gila River Pima tribes, right, dance during the grand entry parade Saturday at the annual Traditional Pow Wow hosted by the Native American Parent Association of Southwest Washington. Hundreds of people attended to watch dozens of dancers and drummers perform.
Louis Kameroff of Vancouver and of the Yupik and Modoc tribes, center, and Corey Nasewytewa of Beaverton, Ore., and of the Hopi and Gila River Pima tribes, right, dance during the grand entry parade Saturday at the annual Traditional Pow Wow hosted by the Native American Parent Association of Southwest Washington. Hundreds of people attended to watch dozens of dancers and drummers perform. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Like thunder, steady strikes on the elk skin drum reverberated through the Heritage High School gymnasium — the foundation for six men who wailed a traditional Native American song and a roomful of dancers who whirled in colorful regalia, every step accented by a cacophonous harmony of bells hung from their ankles and dresses.

“It’s the heartbeat. People look at it as the heartbeat of the earth,” said James Thinn, a Navajo man from Portland, and drum carrier for Turquoise Pride — one of the drum groups that performed at Saturday’s Traditional Pow Wow.

Thinn and hundreds of other people, from all over the West and with tribal affiliations from around the country, came to Saturday’s powwow, which was hosted by the Native American Parent Association of Southwest Washington. For many, it was a celebration and sharing of culture, customs and connection with fellow Native Americans, regardless of tribe, and the community at large.

Thinn formed his first drum group in 2005 and hasn’t looked back. Performing, he said, is a chance to share Native traditions and pass them on to an upcoming generation.

20 Photos
Loretta Stanley of Tacoma and of the Kootenai tribe dances the fancy dance during the Annual Traditional Pow Wow hosted by the Native American Parent Association of Southwest Washington at Heritage High School in Vancouver on Saturday, March 3, 2018.
Annual Traditional Pow Wow Photo Gallery

“For me, it’s the tradition and the culture,” he said. “It’s always good to sing songs, to sing for the people — especially the young ones –to share that and so they can learn from it.”

Outside the gymnasium, vendors sold animal horns and hides, frybread, Indian tacos, elaborate hand-beaded belts and pendants, and turquoise jewelry. The powwow began with a grand entry parade. To the sound of drums and song, dancers young and old — wearing regalia from Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Midwest tribes — circled the gym, led by an eagle staff and the American flag. Shortly after, veterans of all cultures were recognized. Some families presented photos and flags of “fallen warriors” and shared their stories with the audience.

Throughout the all-day event, dances were held for various ages, styles of regalia and styles of dance.

Educating children about their culture was a big theme of the event. Passing on those traditions meant availing a new generation to a part of their heritage that many of the adults around them didn’t have the opportunity to be a part of until later in life.

It wasn’t until 2006, when his then-10-year-old granddaughter announced she wanted to start dancing, that Bob Ryan started doing so himself.

“So we prepared her and started dancing, and I got to thinking … I need to do this, to show others and to take back our culture as a family,” he said.

Ryan said he was raised on a reservation in South Dakota, but the people around him didn’t talk about the traditional ways.

Before the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, Native people couldn’t legally practice their spiritual traditions or ceremonies, so many people kept that part of their lives suppressed. Ryan said his family and their friends were no exception.

“My parents and grandparents were around at the time when it was all illegal and they tried to follow the law,” Ryan said. “My aunt, she’s 98 years old, she said, ‘I’m so glad you’re dancing. That’s something we could not do,’ ” he said.

It wasn’t until the 1960s when, as a young man, Ryan began connecting with his heritage by asking about his family’s history.

A few decades ago, there weren’t many powwows around to attend, he said. But in recent years, they’re in many communities.

“You could probably go to a powwow every month, for sure — sometimes it’s every week,” Ryan said.

On Saturday, Ryan danced in red regalia, with bead work symbolizing the six directions and a bustle of golden eagle feathers on his back. He dances, he said, for his family, his ancestors who couldn’t dance to honor the community.

“They had knowledge that had been suppressed,” he said, “but it became my job to bring it out.”

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Columbian staff writer