From the Autumn 1991 issue of The Messenger, the Wheelwright Museum’s former tri-annual newsletter.
POWWOW PRIDE EXHIBIT
October 5, 1991 – January 3, 1992
Co-curators of the new exhibit, Jeri Ah-be-hill, Kiowa/Comanche, and Eunice Kahn, Navajo, have presented museum visitors with an exiting opportunity to experience “POWWOW” from the Indian point of view. Their interest and enthusiasm was reflected in a recent interview with Messenger Staff Editor Yvonne Bond.
Jeri Ah-be-hill is originally from Anadako, Oklahoma. As a child she attended the Riverside Indian School. For the next twenty years, she lived on the Wind River Indian Reservation where she operated the Fort Washakie Trading Company, married and raised two daughters. She is a striking woman whose everyday outfits, in traditional style, always include beaded moccasins and purse, bright hand-made dresses and Indian jewelry. Jeri makes many of the items herself, or has them made to her design.
“I’ve been around powwows ever since I can remember,” Jeri said. “My family was constantly making powwow clothes; my sister was a champion dancer in her category for many years.”
Eunice Kahn is assistant curator for the museum. Her keen sense of fun was happily obvious as she and Jeri laughed over memories of past powwows. A graduate of the University of Northern Arizona, Eunice has carefully and painstakingly amassed materials for the exhibit from hundreds of sources. Of her connection with powwows, Eunice says, “My parents owned a shop in Flagstaff. We would sell jewelry and beadwork at powwows. About fifteen years ago I started going to powwows. I followed the powwow circuit for a couple of summers. Now I enjoy going with my friends.”
Kahn and Ah-be-hill emphasize that powwows are a living tradition, one that keeps changing and is definitely growing. They see POWWOW PRIDE as a way to increase public recognition of the role of powwows in contemporary Indian life. Visitors to the exhibit will learn what a powwow is; they will understand more about its history, style, and categories, and who its participants are. “We show the difference between the various styles of regalia and how they are related to certain tribal affiliations, said Kahn. “And we tell about the contests and the impressive amounts of prize money that are awarded,” added Ah-be-hill. She spoke of a brother and sister who traveled from powwow to powwow during the summer, entering contests and winning enough money for college.
Throughout the Unites States and Canada, more than 150 powwows are held for Native American to celebrate their ancestry and renew friendships. Powwows give contestants an opportunity to exhibit athletic talents and creative skills while they maintain their traditions. The young people who follow the powwow circuit during the summer and then return to school in the fall often are seeking a balance between their heritage and the demands of modern society.
Powwows differ from dances at Indian Pueblos. Most Pueblo dances have a spiritual significance. At powwows, while the dance arena is often blessed, the dances are social gatherings. The major focus is enjoyment, “like going to a rodeo or state fair.” Entire families pile into cars with their dance dress, and travel thousands of miles across the country to dance, see old friends and compete in the contests. Each person’s dance dress consists of many elements, usually made with great care by the wearer or a friend or relative.
Most dancers prefer the term “dance dress” for powwow regalia, not “costume.” Kahn and Ah-be-hill noted that some non-Indians regularly come to powwows with their own dance dress. They dance side by side with Indians. Others come to study the different dress styles, buy food or arts and crafts from the booths, or simply to have a good time.
Although powwows are nationwide phenomenon, the museum’s exhibit emphasized outfits, paraphernalia and music of the Southern and Northern Plains. The interpretive material for POWWOW PRIDE — what visitors will read on cases and walls and in the gallery guide — has been drawn from quotes by dancers and singers currently active in powwows. They discuss the meaning of powwow, the societies to which they belong, the significance of their dance dress, and their personal histories of involvement. Native American photographers John Running, Ken Blackbird, Horace Poolaw and other who have documented powwows are represented.
The exhibit includes siz examples of actual dance dress on loan from regular powwow participants. Handmade dolls illustrate the dance dress not shown in full size. On view are headdresses, bustles, fans, and dance shawls, styles of beadwork, drums and whistles. Taped music adds the necessary dimension to portray the excitement of “POWWOW.”
The Wheelwright’s tradition of outstanding exhibits of Native American culture continues with POWWOW PRIDE, October 5 – January 3.
OPENS THE NEW EXHIBIT OCTOBER 5
Two “firsts” highlighted the Children’s Powwow held at the museum to celebrate the opening of the current exhibit, POWWOW PRIDE. According to Eunice Kahn and Jeri Ah-be-hill, co-curators of the exhibit and organizers of the exciting event, it was the first powwow for children under 12, and it had the first cradleboard contest ever held.
Modeled along the lines of a full-scale powwow, the content categories were divided by age group. Mixed styles of dancing were represented within each age group. Prizes were awarded to category winners. Santa Fe merchants and private individuals were generous in their spiritual and monetary suppose of the powwow. They have our grateful thanks. Raffle tickets, also common at larger powwows, were sold for prizes: a shawl, beaded items, artwork and jewelry.
Eunice Kahn described the powwow officials and their roles. “Steve Darden, the Master of Ceremonies, is Navajo and Cheyenne, from Flagstaff, Arizona. A member of the White Eagle Gourd Society of Cortez, Colorado, he has emceed throughout the country. He also participates in powwows, performing the Southern Gourd and Straight Dances.” Darden kept up a lively, entertaining commentary informing newcomers and powwow veterans of dress styles, contests, and other aspects of the event.
The Invocation was given by Roger Russell, Winnebago. Clinton Thunderchief, Wisconsin Winnebago, was the Arena Director. According to Kahn, “The person appointed to handle this responsibility understand the protocol of the powwow and is generally well known for his performance as a dancer as well as an Arena Director.” Thunderchief organized the Grand Entry and worked with the Emcee and Host Singers.
Two groups of singers and drummers provided the music for the day: Sunn Land Singers from San Felipe Pueblo were Northern Host Drum; Southern Host was a group led by Ralph Zotigh, Kiowa. (The designations Northern and Southern are not simply distinctions between Northern Plains and Southern Plains. They invovle many aspects of culture and tradition, and also denote particular styles of dancing, singing and dress.)
More than 50 youngsters danced in the contests. During the Inter-Tribal and Woman’s Choice Two-Step, they were joined by adults in dance dress as well as audience members, young and old. Prize money awarded to the winners of the 15 contest categories amounted to over $3,000. Attendance at the Children’s Powwow and the opening of the new exhibit POWWOW PRIDE, was estimated at 750 people — and a good time was had by all!