The Powwow Trail - My Family Travels

I think of my life being a path of incredible movement. If it weren’t for the spectacular dance and constant interactions between subatomic particles traveling at some velocity on a path, I wouldn’t exist. Motion is life. This strong appreciation for life and movement was passed down from my ancestors. The people I descend from strongly believe in the power and energy of movement and honor it with art, stories, clothing, dance and song, which is why I feel this way about my life. Many died and sacrificed themselves so that I could exist today. There is much to be thankful for and celebrate! Even in these hard economic times, families consisting of dancers and singers of all ages and tribes celebrate existing in a time like this, because it wasn’t even 100 years ago that Native people and culture were targeted by government policies whose intent was to destroy the beauty of Native people. I am a dancer and I have two year old twin boys that are learning to dance. The fact that my grandparents and ancestors fought as hard as they could to protect a way of life so that I could be alive today is a tremendous gift, a reason to celebrate, and why I choose to show my appreciation for life through dance.

I am aware that moving forward and ahead is the key. If paths are circular in nature and we create our own path, why not make that path the most enjoyable path to travel? When suffering from physical or emotional problems, one must take tangible or intangible steps forward and displace oneself from harmful paths in order to begin healing. I think that the powwow trail is the Native way of healing on a larger scale. It’s no secret that there were unspeakable crimes committed against Native people. Some people cite reasons for high rates of suicide/crime/domestic abuse/etc amongst Native people, but I’m not interested in mundane details such as these. Mostly because, the struggles we endure as individuals define us, therefore the obstacles we overcome together as a FAMILY, group, tribe, or society of people define us as well. When we dance together, we pray and give thanks that we are able to dance, and we dance in appreciation for those who are no longer on this earth. When we sing, there is energy transmitted out to the group that can’t be explained, it can only be felt. That kind of energy is powerful and can heal.

Another word for powwow is celebration because a celebration of life is what a powwow is. Children are shown to dance from infancy and elders are respected. The powwow is centered around families. So many reasons come to mind as why I am a part of the powwow trail. The most important reason is that it’s something I see as a good thing for the growth, development, and well-being of my children. At the sound of a drum and a song, my children stop whatever it is that they are doing and start dancing. When a stick is in their hand, they attempt to drum. I grew up with this movement of dancing at powwows and traveling from powwow to powwow. The powwow trail made me who I am today, which is a resilient and intelligent woman. I would like to give my children those gifts.

Beginning in late spring, I sew up new outfits for my children and fix up my 10 year old beadwork and regalia. I’m not bragging or complaining that I have such old stuff, but at least, I have something. Some dancers are able to put together an entire set of new beadwork every year consisting of sparkling beadwork and intricately decorated dresses, shawls, ribbon shirts, and skirts. Each year, I attend the same powwows, with a few exceptions. My reasons for going to certain powwows is that it may be the only time I see certain people. We keep in touch all year long, meet up at a powwow for conversation, dinner, hugs and handshakes.

Sometimes, my favorite drum group is the host drum and it is my only reason for going to a powwow. Dancing to a talented drum group with amazing vocals sends me into an excited state in which I am operating in a higher energy level. The exhibition of movement is letting oneself be free from this reality and exist in another, in which all that matters is the feeling of the song resonating through my body as it is altering my consciousness and healing my spirit. Only the drum and I exist in this other dimension of space-time and I can’t explain the feeling, I can only show it with the steps I take and the twirl of my shawl as I’m a fancy shawl dancer that shows love and gratitude for the gift of life I’ve been given. Dancers, such as myself, let the movement happen. Being truly in the moment and showing others what is being felt upon hearing a song is the most poetic and freeing experience one can hope to feel, as it is letting ones body move as it desires. Our bodies have tendencies to move in certain ways if we let it happen. All of the greatest feelings in the world consist of letting ones thoughts stop and being caught up in the moment. There are no feelings of awkwardness or shyness, even though there may be hundreds of spectators. Only unpredictably beautiful, random motion in response to a stimuli can be observed and displayed.

Dancing does wonders for my mind, body, and spirit. It’s not an easy thing to dance well. Most of the best began as infants, some were created at powwows or began life in the womb of a dancing mother. To be disciplined enough to practice and get better sets the best apart from the good. Most, however, dance to have fun. There are opportunities for gifted dancers to earn money for their moves and intricate outfits, but most enjoy the time spent traveling with family to a powwow and enjoying the energy present at the powwow. As more and more generations are being brought up on the powwow trail, the path and motion will become stronger and powerful.

Last August, I was at the annual celebration in Rocky Boy, Montana. I thought about everything that I have written here. I recalled how my ancestors, the Qlispe’, traveled to this area of Montana to gather certain plants and hunt. The Qlispe’ believed the Bear Paws had power and in that moment at the powwow, Cozad was singing a beautiful Intertribal song. An intertribal is a time when all dancers, all ages, in outfit or not, Native or non-Native, can get out on the dance floor and dance. All of the dancers I watched were dancing hard and feeling the energy of the song. It was one of the most beautiful sights to behold. Thoughts and emotions were heightened in that moment, as a strong appreciation for existing as a Native American woman in today’s world overcame me. I’ve been to many powwows over the years, and never felt that way before. I always appreciated the sight of dancing, but for some reason, I could never explain why I appreciated it so much. The image of some of Indian Country’s best dancers and a legendary drum group singing for these dancers created a feeling of thankfulness within me that will stick with me forever. I remember looking at my children, and they too, were captivated by the dancers and the song. The three of us watched quietly. I was overcome with emotion and shed a few tears of happiness.

The intensity of the feeling of was so overwhelming that I will never be able to explain it. I know I felt something nobody else in this world will feel because it was a special moment meant for me, and now I’m choosing to share it. While others and my children may not be able to have the words to explain or possess the awareness of the feelings created by the powwow trail, it doesn’t mean that it’s not healing or strengthening, it only means that we aren’t aware, which is why I am sharing this special moment of awareness I had. I believe we are all connected and related, even if we are aware of it or not. My hope is that someday, as you travel to destinations and discover more about who you are, you will achieve the same feelings and thoughts of appreciation that I have. I travel so that I can see another aspect of myself I wouldn’t normally see. Sometimes, people take their lives for granted, as though they are entitled to live, when really, this life is a gift to be appreciated, no matter our circumstances. Native Americans are, on average, some of the poorest people in the country, suffering the highest rates of substance abuse, poverty, domestic violence, unemployment, and sudden infant death syndrome in the nation. Despite the odds and challenges Native people face, we rejoice and celebrate that we are alive and able to dance. Someday, I hope you will share moments of clarity and appreciation like that with your children.


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