For many residents of the Inland Northwest, our only daily reminders of the region’s original people are the Indian names of towns and landmarks.
But a way to learn more is through Native American powwows and festivals, held each summer by tribes to help maintain their culture. It’s an opportunity for the young to learn from their elders.
The powwows allow the public to view a way of life that has been described only in books or movies for most of us. Too often, those works do not give an accurate portrayal.
The powwows are colorful and informative. Ceremonial dance costumes are dazzling with their intricate bead work, leather and feathers. These festivals also are an opportunity to sample some Native American cuisine, to visit a teepee village and share their culture. Here are some selected festivals:
Coeur d’Alene Indian Pilgrimage
The Coeur d’Alene Indians built Idaho’s oldest building, the Cataldo Mission, on a hill overlooking the Coeur d’Alene River.
The structure has a strong religious history for the tribe. Legend says that a chief, Circling Raven, had great visionary powers. His raven spirit could fly off and locate game, spot approaching enemy and see future events.
During one vision quest, Circling Raven foresaw the coming of a new kind of medicine man, who would arrive from the east wearing a black robe and carrying a cross. This vision was the promise of a new spiritual power, which would help the tribe overcome the increasing problems of land disputes and diseases being brought by the white man to their land.
The prophecy was fulfilled when Father De Smet, a Jesuit priest, arrived when a chief’s daughter was ill and the tribe’s medicine man had been unable to heal her. Father De Smet prayed over the sick child, and the girl recovered. The enthusiasm of the Coeur d’Alenes and their embrace of the Catholic teachings during his visit prompted Father De Smet to send a priest to the area to establish a permanent mission.
The Cataldo Mission is still considered by the Coeur d’Alene Indians as their mission, and they return each August to celebrate the Feast of Assumption and to perform an ancestral pageant. The pilgrimage, a re-enactment of Circling Raven’s vision, and ceremonial dances are held on the third Saturday in August at Old Mission State Park near Cataldo. (208) 682-3814.
Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival and Rodeo
Fort Hall, Idaho
The annual festival takes place Aug. 9-13. It is an international gathering of tribes, where ceremonial dance and war dance competitions are held. (208) 238-3803 or 237-9791.
Pendleton Roundup & Happy Canyon Pageant
The Happy Canyon Pageant is performed each evening, after the rodeo competition. Dressed in native costumes, performers tell the history of the West through the eyes of Native American tribes.
The event takes place September 13-16. Pageant tickets range from $6 to $12. Family and senior packages (rodeo and pageant admissions) are available upon request. (800) 457-6336 or (503) 276-2553.
Warm Springs Reservation, Ore.
The annual Pi-Ume-Sha (meaning “Let’s Celebrate”) festival will be held June 23-25. The traditional powwow has ceremonial dancing and reflects on the signing of the tribes’ treaty with the United States. (503) 553-1161.
Yakama Indian Nation
The Yakama Indian Nation holds several pow-wows each summer at the White Swan pavilion, located 20 miles west of Toppenish.
Yakama Nation Powwow, June 9-11.
Eagle Spirit Fathers Day Celebration/Powwow, June 16-18.
National Indian Day Powwow, September 22-24.
For more information on powwows and public programs at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center: (509) 865-2800.
North American Indian Days
Members of Indian tribes from throughout the United States and Canada gather each year at the Blackfeet Reservation to celebrate and give thanks to the creator. The powwow will be held July 6-9 and will include traditional Indian dancing, parades, food, arts and opportunities for visitors to learn more about the Blackfeet culture through cultural camps and reservation tours. (406) 338-7521.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Fort Macleod, Alberta
The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the oldest and best preserved bison jump sites in North America. The annual Buffalo Days Powwow will be held July 21-23. The extravaganza features Native dance competitions and a traditional tipi village near the Interpretive Centre. No admission is charged. (403) 553-2731.