Leslie McQuade Griffin
With the International Golden Dawn Pow Wow only an Equinox away, David and I, seeking inspiration from the ancestors of this land in America, last week attended the Utah Navaho Pow Wow in Bluff, Utah. As an anthropologist, I was certain that we would learn things from this Intertribal event that would help the Golden Dawn Community heal from the strife that has hobbled it for decades.
A Native American Pow Wow is like a family reunion. It is like a state fair. It is like a tent revival, beauty pageant, dance hall, Christmas and a carnival all going on at once. There are dancing competitions, beauty competitions, rodeo competitions, and although the competition is fierce, all understand that the real purpose of the Pow Wow is to celebrate being Indian (yes, they call themselves Indians, not Native Americans). Nations that just a few generations before would have killed each other on sight have now, due to the genocide conducted by settlers and pioneers, joined together to marvel at all the different ways the Nations have to express themselves in peace, love and harmony. Clearly, there was healing to be found here for the Golden Dawn.
|Even from the road, the landscape is breathtaking.|
We walked from the Kokopeli Inn the ½ mile or so to the Pow Wow grounds. There was no sidewalk, but instead, a well-worn path on the side of the road. We were careful to avoid wearing anything that had skulls, snakes or owls, as all these are taboo in most Indian nations for all but the Heyoka (Sacred Clowns). David wore Ed Hardy jeans with a black Jaguar embroidered on the back, a “blingy” tee shirt and the Jaguar baseball cap he got when he bought his faithful steed, Miracle. I had been to several Pow Wows and Sundances on the plains, so I opted for the more traditional long dress, shawl, and Ropers (a type of cowboy work boot).
We crossed the highway and walked in to the rodeo parking. There were dozens of heavy-duty “dualie” pickups with horse trailers. The horses tied to the trailers, some wearing blanktets decorated like old-fashioned warpaint, were whinnying at the distant sound of drums and singing.
|Wild horses gathering to listen to |
traditional Indian Drumming.
Some of the Indians were selling melons out of their trucks; wonderful watermelons, crenshaws, cantaloupes and other varieties unique to the family that raised them. Seeds are saved from the best tasting melons, and replanted in the same gardens year after year until micro varieties are formed.
As we walked up to the front entrance, we saw the rodeo arena to our right. The woman who took our entrance fee said the rodeo would start at 7pm, and the dancing had already begun. When we asked what time things would be over, she did a very typical Indian thing; she looked at us, took a deep breath, looked up, looked back at us and said, “Well now, that depends. It'll be over when it’s over, but I expect the dancers will be here 'til at least midnight”.
At a Pow Wow (or any Indian gathering for that matter), time is a slippery concept. Things are done as they unfold. There may be a start and finish time posted, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things will happen at the appointed times. In Indian Country, it is far more important to “go with the flow” than it is to be “on time”. Clocks are an introduced idea, and “on time” is clock time and thus, not Indian Time, which is very much like Island Time, for those of you who may have experienced it. Things happen when they are meant to happen, and so, when you attend a Pow Wow, it is a good idea to just relax and “go with the flow”. It’s good for your blood pressure, and will make your time at the Pow Wow more enjoyable.
|It's like an Indian Fashion show for all ages and styles.|
We had arrived a little before sunset, so we were just in time for the community dance competition. Participants wear dressy clothes and dance as a couple. It’s like a beauty pageant/fashion show/dance competition/popularity contest. There were no age brackets; if you could dance, you could participate. We saw a pair that couldn’t have been more than 12, and another that was at least in their 80’s. There was even a transgender/cross-dressed couple. This by the way, is not at all unusual in most of Indian Country, since not every boy who went out on a Vision Quest came back with a Puma or an Eagle. Some came back with a Bison Scapula Hoe or Berry Basket.
After watching the traditional dancers, we went to dinner with some friends, and then went back to see some more of the Pow Wow. By now the sun had set, so the population of the Pow Wow had changed significantly.
The first significant change we noticed was that the Navajo Police were now making a loud and plentiful presence at the front gate. As is always the case at a festival touched by western influences, someone got too drunk and made a scene. We took a wide berth of the unfolding situation, since police of every stripe seem to have become less predictable of late.
|Roping a calf takes lots, and lots of practice.|
The rodeo had started, so we walked to the edge of the arena for a closer look. While I admire the athleticism and skill required to rope a calf from a galloping horse, I much prefer to watch drummers, dancers and singers.
We quickly noticed that most all of the really old elders had gone home, along with the country western band that had been entertaining near the rodeo grounds while they were setting things up. The community dancers had gone too, and the carnival was lit up and in full swing. We walked past booths selling fry bread and roast mutton, beaded earrings and bags of feathers, and of course, the ubiquitous shiny Chinese krippity-crap that seems to be at every street fair.
Finally we arrived at the Main Dance Arena. This is where the heart of the Pow Wow was to be found. The dancers, drummers and singers that would perform here are at the top of their game. The dances and songs are for healing. Dancers dance not only because they enjoy it, but also because it serves an important function in the community. By making and wearing the different regalia associated with a particular dance, a person takes on the responsibility of carrying that tradition forward to future generations. You cannot be “just a dancer”. Dances are healing. Dancers are teachers, and those people who agree to dance are also agreeing to be healers, teachers and role models for their communities.
|Good seats are hard to find!|
As we looked for some good seats, the Mixed Dance was in full swing. I love the Mixed Dance best of all, because it is the only time you can see the different types of dancers dancing together. There are Men's Fancy Dancers twirling beside the more reserved Buckskin Dancers, and Fancy Shawl Dancers high-stepping beside Grass Dancers and Cloth Dancers. There is usually a Mixed Dance in between each of the judged dances, to both keep the dancers "warm" and to test them. What impressed David and I most was that each of these dancers, danced the Dance of his or her own choice. Each was unique, and yet together they didn't clash, but rather created an overall beauty and synergy like musicians playing different instruments in a symphony orchestra. David and I marveled, commenting on how wonderful it could be if the Golden Dawn could learn this lesson.
|Everyone is lining up to start the Mixed Dance.|
We had just taken some seats in the bleacher section when a woman came over the PA system to make a special announcement. She announced that she was the Head Woman, and that she had been approached with a Special Healing Request. She was so moved by the request that she decided to grant it. She then told us about a baby and mother in intensive care after the baby was born prematurely and with complications. The Pow Wow was to stop, and a healing dance be done by a volunteer Jingle Dancer. It didn’t take long. The volunteer singers and drummers immediately started the special healing music, and one lone Jingle Dancer took the center of the arena.
Jingle dancers are women who wear silver cones on their dresses. The cones tinkle together as she dances. The young women who choose this dress do so because they are called to heal others. As the Jingle Dancer dances, her beauty and skill make those who watch happy. All this attention and happy energy is absorbed by the Jingle Dancer who then amplifies it, adds healing energy, and then sends it out to the person or persons to be healed, and all those who can see her.
It was so heartwarming to watch these people, some from as far away as Gallup NM, stop the Pow Wow to give love and support to a family most had never met. As she danced the first two rounds, other dancers of all kinds came out to the edge of the arena, and danced the Supporters Dance, lending their energy as well. This is the spirit Pow Wow embodies. There is a need, and a volunteer is called upon to fulfill it. More volunteers then step up, more come in behind to support, and ALL are healed in the process, even those who only watch.
After the dance, the MC came back on the mic, her voice breaking, and invited all those who wanted healing to come forward and recieve the Jingle Dancer’s blessing. It is believed that after the dance, the Jingle Dancer is charged with healing energy, and can impart it to any and all who touch her. Interestingly, there was not a mad rush. Rather, it was more subdued and respectful. Those who were truly ill, people with oxygen tanks, walkers, in wheelchairs and with canes made their way slowly into the arena to take the Healer/Dancer’s hand, to hug her, to absorb some of the transformed energy in hopes of healing themselves in the process. More and more people trickled in, until the stands were half empty. Those who had been Supporting Dancers joined in behind the Jingle Dancer, offering the blessings of their dance as well. There were at least 75 or 80 people in the arena, hugging, touching, smiling; reveling in the beauty and love that had been created there. This impromptu event lasted nearly an hour, and yet no one complained. EVERYONE THERE supported the dancer and the people she represented with love, compassion, and most of all, ACTIVE PARTICIPATION. David was moved to tears, and pointed out that this was a powerful manifestation of the Goddess.
After the special healing Request, the Head Woman came back on the mic to announce the resumption of the Pow Wow, and what was up next? The Jingle Dancer competition. The music started, and this time, a dozen Jingle Dancers, took the arena. The costumes are hot and heavy, covered in metal cones, glass beads and bits of mirror. Each tall moccasin is completely covered in beads and can weight up to six pounds apiece. The dance that is done has the footwork similar to the Riverdance that was so popular a few years ago. They also carry heavy beaded purses, and large fans which are held high over their heads. For all this, they are light on their feet, as if what they were doing took no more effort than simply walking.
|Most Jingle Dancers do all their own beadwork.|
There is always a 5-minute break between dances, so the dancers can catch their breath. The MC asked if they were ready to dance, give a jingle. Only one moved. It was a hot, dusy night, and the MC took the time to admonish the Jingle Dancers “You chose to put on the dress. An’ someone out there is gonna’ be healed from watching you dance tonight. Give it your all. We’re gonna’ have another song now. Last one. ” And then the drumming and singing started again. The young ladies’ regalia sparkled in the halogen lights. Their cones jingled even louder than the drums and singers amplified over the PA system. The drummers set a blistering pace, but the women never faltered. They were light on their feet like ballerinas, kicking up clouds of dust in the dry Utah night. Fans held high over heads decked with elaborately beaded crowns, these healing Princesses absorbed the energy of our attention, changed it into healing energy, and radiated it back to us.
|It can take months to make a single dress.|
All those present were moved. I saw the woman beside me, who had gone up to be healed by the Special Request Dancer, wiping away silent tears. It takes a stony heart to keep a dry eye during these dances.
Three judges were to pick the first, second and third place dancers. When the dance ended, the ladies stood in a circle, facing inward, waiting to be chosen by a judge. Three men walked up and circled behind the dancers like the old game “duck-duck-goose”. Each one chose a dancer. These were the finalists. Another dance started, and David and I tried to pick the winner. In the end, the Jingle Dancer in black won. I’m not sure why. Her’s was not the most elaborate or beautiful costume. She did not step the highest, or hold her fan up the longest, but all agreed that she was the best.
|Genuine Pendleton blankets are expensive, and beautiful.|
Every one who participates is given a case of soda or water, because in truth, all these healing Goddesses benefit their community. The three were given Pendleton blankets, and the winner was given some scholarship money in addition to the water and blanket.
We were both deeply impressed by all that we had seen. Could something like this be possible in the Golden Dawn community? We, who seek to be more than human, could we put aside the petty concerns of our human existence to collectively embrace a better way? Would it have to take a genocide level event for us to see the error or our warring ways?
To our left, the big event of the evening was lining up to enter the arena – Men’s Fancy Dance. The "Fancy Dance" originated as Fancy War Dance by the Hethuska Society in Oklahoma. The individual who invented the dance was Gus McDonald. He was also the first World Champion Fancy War Dancer. This dance has been taken up by the Intertribal community with relish. The Fancy Dance was the most expensive, most elaborate, most difficult and physically demanding of all dances. It was a chance for the men to really strut their stuff. The men were decked out in hundreds of feathers, thousands of beads and mirrors, and paint on their faces such that they looked more like exotic neon peacocks than men.
We watched them spin and prance in the dust. Pictures of fancy dancers just don’t do them justice. And when you get to see the thirty best Fancy Feather Dancers in the Four Corners area, it’s the kind of eye candy you will never forget. Watching them dance was like looking at Las Vegas through a kaleidoscope!
We left after just 5 or 6 rounds of Fancy Dance. It was getting late, and for us, the really important lesson had already been learned. The Jingle Dancer who had volunteered to dance for that family – she wasn’t even a finalist. She had danced her hardest before the competition even began. She gave her all for the role the dress demanded, not for the competition. Now the admonishment of the MC made sense. She was the one who had jingled; she was the one who healed us.