United in dance and song
Tribes from across the U.S. and Canada gather in Post Falls
The sound of drums beat into the night Saturday as organizers of the 12th annual Julyamsh Powwow and Encampment expected dancing competitions to continue past midnight at Greyhound Park in Post Falls.
Teenagers Hantala Hollow and Alexia Hanway, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, jingled as they walked the grounds, their dresses covered with dozens of small, cone-shaped bells.
Hollow, who was competing in jingle dress dancing with Hanway, demonstrated what seemed to be an intricate series of steps she uses in her dance, but she said it’s not hard at all.
“As long as you’ve been dancing since you were born, it’s easy,” she said. “You get it after a couple years of practice.”
The yearly gathering unites local tribes as well as tribes from the Midwest and Canada to dance and play games.
“The focus here is on traditional cultures, the dancing, the singing, the drumming,” said Cliff SiJohn, cultural affairs director for the Coeur d’Alene Casino and one of the founders of Julyamsh. “It’s a fun time for Indian people as well as non-Indian people. It’s a cultural exchange for both of us,” SiJohn said.
Hollow, 13, is a registered member of the Colville tribe but also counts members of the Nez Perce, Yakima and Sioux tribes among her ancestors. She said the jingle dresses like she was wearing should have 365 bells, but explained the number can vary depending on how much noise the dancer wants to make and how heavy the dress gets.
The dancers were the stars of the gathering in their brightly colored regalia. More than 750 dancers of all ages were competing in 16 categories, including grass dancing and fancy dancing.
Grass dancing has its roots in the Plains tribal members who were responsible for preparing the grounds for large gatherings, SiJohn said. The grass often would be high, and they danced to trample it flat. “It has to do with the sweep of their legs when they dance,” he said.
Fancy dancers wear elaborate eagle feather bustles. “It’s a very fast dance, a lot of twirling and jumping,” he said.
If anyone had a job harder than the dancers in the summer heat, it was the drummers. Groups took turns providing the throbbing beats.
“The drumbeat has to be equal,” SiJohn said. “It cannot be interrupted for anything. There can be no mistakes.”
The drummers must memorize the songs for each style of dance. “Each song is different. It’s not written down. It’s learned,” he said.