August 16, 1996 in Nation/World

The Powwow Autobahn Tribes Hope To Capitalize On Europeans’ Thirst For Culture

Eric Torbenson Staff writer

Judith and Sean Sinclair came all the way from London to soak up the pageantry of Thursday’s Feast of the Assumption, which blended Catholic grace with Coeur d’Alene Indian tradition.

Indians clad in eagle feathers and other plumage danced to rhythmic drumming while white-robed deacons sang and celebrated the Catholic Mass. Hundreds of onlookers prayed and tried to frame all the action with their pocket cameras.

“We’ve got a lot of people who do this sort of thing - the Indian dancing, the whole bit - in England and a whole lot more in Germany,” said Judith Sinclair, here with her husband for a two-week vacation in North Idaho and Maine. “I’m happy we heard about this - it wasn’t exactly well-advertised.”

The Coeur d’Alenes and other tribes in the Northwest hope to change that. A meeting this week in Spokane brought tribes together to discuss tourism ventures to capitalize on Europeans’ thirst for North American native culture.

Next month in Oregon, more than 50 Northwest tribes will meet to discuss the issue further, said Bob Bostwick, Coeur d’Alene tribal spokesman.

An acquaintance of Bostwick’s, a Lakota Indian, told him of traveling to Germany and finding groups living for weeks like Lakotas and speaking the language better than the Indians themselves.

German tourists are spending thousands of dollars to take tours through Indian country in South Dakota, sitting in sweat lodges and participating in other rituals.

“They’re very interested in our cultures,” Bostwick said. “We have great opportunities here with this pilgrimage.”

Bostwick gets dozens of letters from Europeans interested in Coeur d’Alene Indian culture. He always spotlights the pilgrimage as a must-see for those interested in visiting.

The Mass, ensuing feast and afternoon powwow kicked off two days of celebration that commemorates “the golden age” of the Coeur d’Alenes.

Circling Raven, chief and medicine man of the Coeur d’Alenes in the 1700s, told of a man in a black robe who would signal the coming of a spiritual power.

Father PierreJean DeSmet arrived in 1842, and the tribe converted to Catholicism. The Coeur d’Alenes built the Cataldo Mission, Idaho’s oldest building, in 1853.

Tourists from as far away as France, Switzerland and Afghanistan come to the pilgrimage. Cliff SiJohn, a tribal official, calls the foreign visitors out to dance in the powwow circle during each pilgrimage.

“Any time that people from other cultures and parts of the world can come to an event like this and learn about our history and culture, it’s a good thing,” said Ernie Stensgar, tribal chairman.

The pilgrimage and feast appeal to Catholics and tourists in the Northwest as well.

Sharon Livingston and Sherry Crickmer from near Pendleton, Ore., heard about the pilgrimage in concert with the feast last year, and eagerly made the journey north.

“I’m very interested in the historical aspects of what we’ll see,” Livingston said. “I wouldn’t miss this.”

The tribe wants to work with Idaho’s Commerce Department to develop brochures and marketing strategies to bring more international visitors and domestic tourists through the reservation, Bostwick said.

“We could set up tours with camping sites, and perhaps send them a language guide with a tape,” he suggested. “That way they could get the language aspect out of the trip as well.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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