The feet of the competitive dancers jigged right, then left, in sync with a drumbeat, giving rise to the swing of fringe and jingling of bells on traditional outfits.
Pauline Flett prayed for a blessing of the feet of the dancers, first in the Spokane Salish language, and then in English, at the 21st annual Spokane Falls Northwest Indian Encampment and Pow Wow.
Based on the historic summer encampment of Northwest tribes along the Spokane River, the event includes a dance and drum competition through today in the Lilac Bowl of Riverfront Park.
“The drumbeat is the heartbeat of the tribe. You can feel it in the air, it’s magic. The river must be happy to hear it again too,” Flett said.
Each year, financial uncertainty brings the question of whether the river will again hear songs from the powwow. This year, the organizing committee raised the necessary $30,000 to hold the event by last week, said event Chairman David BrownEagle, 61, of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.
On the closing of last year’s powwow, organizers said the event was in danger of extinction. A few months before the 2009 powwow, the event only had $110, but a last-minute donation allowed the event to happen, according to Spokesman-Review reports.
Expenses for the powwow come from renting sound equipment and lighting, BrownEagle said. The majority of the money goes to prize awards for the dance and drum competitions. The master of ceremonies and arena director also receive small stipends.
BrownEagle, this year’s master of ceremonies, said it is difficult to get sustainable funding because each donor or organization has a fluctuating annual budget. He’s been involved in powwows since he was a 6-year-old dancer, and he remembers the days of fundraising with raffles and bake sales.
“Now it’s more corporate. We have to write grants and submit proposals to get the dollars,” he said. Right now it’s a yearlong process because of application deadlines.
“The powwow has been hurt by the economic situation the last two years, but different people kept it alive,” BrownEagle said. Two years ago they cut the event from three days to two.
BrownEagle said as early as next year, a younger generation of leaders will take over the planning for the event.
Victor LaSarte of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians said that to guarantee the future of the powwow, they “need a stronger commitment from the seven tribes and Spokane City Council.” He did add that the community, Mayor Mary Verner and some Spokane City Council members have been very supportive.
“It’s important to keep the traditions,” LaSarte said. “I want to see it in my children and grandchildren’s eyes. We have to keep some things pristine.”