Like the dancers they’re inviting, organizers of a huge summer powwow here must do some fast and fancy footwork.
They’re launching an event that could lure 20,000 or more people. But they have only two weeks to get the word out to the participants who will make it possible: Indian families who compete in dancing and drumming, and sell their handicrafts.
Rather than discouraging planners, the tight deadline seems to be adding to their excitement about the July 23-26 powwow at the Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park.
“It’s going to be something to make the heart swell and the mind soar,” said event chairman David Matheson, gaming director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
The powwow will be known as Ju’la’y’msh. That’s the Coeur d’Alene word for rendezvous, dating to the days when the Indians met white trappers for games each July in the Spokane River valley.
The powwow represents the first time that the tribe has joined with others to celebrate the area’s history and identity, Matheson said at a Wednesday planning meeting.
The celebration will combine culture and commerce. Nearby Idaho motels and restaurants won’t be able to handle all the extra visitors, said Nancy DiGiammarco, executive director of the Coeur d’Alene-Post Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She predicted that Spokane businesses will benefit from the spillover.
The powwow idea arose during a brainstorming session by board members, DiGiammarco said. She recalled a comment by Marlene Justice, the tribe’s marketing director.
“Marlene said, ‘To me, as a tribal member, you can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to return to the native area at Q’melin and have a powwow.”’
That riverside gathering place now is a city park, and was deemed too small. The greyhound park near the Idaho/Washington state line, which no longer is used for dog racing, seemed perfect.
It has a huge air-conditioned building for vendors, Interstate 90 access, a grassy and lighted infield where drummers and dancers can be judged, room for staging and 12 large tents, and a track for horses needed during opening ceremonies. Former kennels will serve as dressing rooms.
“The facility is perfect for this, just perfect,” said Matheson, a veteran competitor at powwows.
The park is providing the facility free of charge. Its simulcast racing and bingo games will continue, said manager Don Gross.
The event would be the largest ever held at the track, Gross said.
Gross is active in powwow planning. Among others are managers from Cavanaughs Templin’s Resort, Washington Water Power, Wells Fargo Bank and Simplot-Jacklin Seed.
“I think everyone has started to realize the scope of this, and what it means to the community,” said Gross.
The city of Post Falls and the tribe each have given $5,000 in seed money, and more sponsors are being sought. Matheson estimates a final budget of $120,000, with $60,000 in prize money, $40,000 for personnel and $20,000 for equipment and other needs.
The July weekend was chosen because no other Northwest powwow was scheduled then. There’s a big circuit of powwows around the country. Families that follow the national circuit of powwows will set their schedules this spring, Matheson said.
That’s why it’s critically important for posters and fliers to be produced within the next couple of weeks.
In organizing the powwow, tribal staffers will draw upon their experience putting together boxing matches and concerts at its bingo casino in Worley, Matheson said.
Marketing analysis will tell them what powwow participants like and dislike, so Ju’la’y’msh can be tailored to them.
For example, Matheson said, “they hate an emcee who thinks everybody came to listen to him.”
There seems to be no doubt among organizers that Ju’la’y’msh will become an annual fixture on the culture scene. If attendance is anywhere near 20,000, it will start out as one of the larger powwows in the country.
Cliff SiJohn, the tribe’s special projects officer, imagines the event becoming as well known as the Pendleton Round-Up or Calgary Stampede.
“We have to be bigger and better the next year, and bigger and better the next year,” SiJohn said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: POWWOW Ju’la’y’msh will be July 23-26 at the Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park.