Leaders from several Northwest Indian tribes stood up during the closing night of the 20th annual Spokane Falls Northwest Indian Encampment and Pow Wow on Saturday and urged the crowd to tell Spokane’s city leaders how important the gathering is to this region.
Several of the speakers suggested the event was in danger of not returning to Riverfront Park in the future.
“I would like to urge the powers that be, in the city of Spokane, to really hear what they have to say tonight,” said Jason Louie, a council member of the Lower Kootenai Band from Creston, B.C. “It isn’t ‘if’ we should be here, it’s ‘why’ we should be here. We do not wish for this to be the final year. We will continue to dance, to sing in our native homelands.”
This year’s event was on shaky financial footing just a few months ago, when the bank account held only $110, said David BrownEagle of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. Although financial support came through at the last minute, from donations large and small, the event was reduced from three days to two.
Victor LaSarte of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians asked the gathered crowd of hundreds to write letters to the Spokane City Council stressing the importance of the event’s location.
“This used to be our gathering grounds for all our tribes,” LaSarte said. “All we’re trying to do is continue our culture.”
Last year, the powwow received $10,000 in lodging tax grant money from the city, but that contribution did not occur this year, said Toni Lodge, executive director of the NATIVE Project and a powwow organizer. Donors this year included the Kootenai, Kalispel, Spokane and Coeur d’Alene tribes, the NATIVE Project, and the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Lodge acknowledged Mayor Mary Verner’s personal donation to the event, but said the city needs to financially support the powwow, which she called its “authentic event.” She said tourists from France, Japan and Amsterdam stopped by the NATIVE Project booth Saturday excited about the chance to see Indian dancing and drumming.
“I know times are tough, but gosh, this is a big draw,” Lodge said. “This is as big an event as any in our community.”