The first thing you hear is drums. Deep, rumbling and rhythmic, the steady beat travels through the trees at the park. Then you hear the jingle of silver bells, almost at the same time you hear singing, and then you know you’ve reached the powwow.
The Spokane Falls Northwest Indian Encampment and Pow Wow began Friday evening at Riverfront Park, and Saturday was completely occupied by dancing.
“We have 200 dancers here – I’m just really impressed by the turnout,” said organizer Sharon Ortiz, Eastern Washington operations manager for the State Human Rights Commission. “And we have 17 drummers – some came as far away as from Utah.”
New this year, the powwow featured a drumming and singing contest, something important to the competing dancers.
“That way they know they get a very good quality of music to dance to,” said David Williams, a member of the organizing committee. “Judges grade them on how well they dance and how well they stay within the parameters of the dance.”
The smallest dancers were barely 2 feet tall, but just as energetic, impressive and colorful as the adult contestants.
This year’s powwow had been on shaky ground.
Area tribes and Native American organizations traditionally provided most of the funding, but this year rising costs had the powwow committee worried that it needed more financial help.
In May, Mayor Mary Verner called a meeting to try to find help for the powwow.
“We are honoring Mayor Verner here today for what she did,” said Ortiz. “She really stepped up to the plate when we needed it.”
Verner and Harry Sladich, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, were honored at a ceremony Saturday evening.
The powwow received $10,000 in lodging tax grant money from the city. Other major donors include Avista, Northern Quest Casino, the NATIVE Project and the convention and visitors breau.
Fred Hill Sr., a Umatilla tribal member, came to participate in the powwow.
“I’d say this is an event people all over the area look forward to, there are top-notch dancers and drummers here,” said Hill, who had been invited to give a prayer and invocation as a Umatilla spiritual leader, as well as “to use my gift of gab as a fill-in emcee.”
People milled around the Lilac Bowl, munching on fry bread and ice cream, catching up with friends and family, and browsing the many vendor booths.
“I think the powwow brings an inter-tribalness to things,” Hill said. “It brings in the social part. Even though we compete, we share traditional ways and much common ground.”
Connecting with family and tribal elders is a big part of the powwow experience, too, he said.
“When we have elders here from different tribes, it seems everyone has knowledge for us,” he said. “And that gives us something good to fall back upon.”
The powwow continues today with dance competitions all day and a grand entry at 1 p.m.