All year long, the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Ethete, WY. looks forward to their end-of-year competition pow-wow.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Rob Valdez, one of the pow-wow’s organizers. “Don’t be afraid to participate.”
The pow-wow, held in Ethete’s Blue Sky Hall from Dec. 30-Jan. 1 at 7 p.m., is free and open to the public. The event is held at Blue Sky Hall, 506 Ethete Road. Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of dances from people of all ages and the beautiful regalia that accompany each dance.
Sandra Iron Cloud, pow-wow organizer, said the competition is broken down into different categories for each dance and different age groups ranging from children 7 and under to retired adults. There are varying amounts of prize money for each dance and age bracket as well.
“The judges will be looking for style, appropriate regalia, timing and personal knowledge of the dance,” Iron Cloud said. “Are they dancing hard? Are they enjoying it?”
Valdez said the women’s categories are typically jingle, fancy and traditional dance, while the men’s categories are usually grass, fancy and traditional dance.
The jingle dance performed by the women features outfits with several rows of metal cones. Valdez said the cones are made from lids of chewing tobacco cans. Sometimes his family trades or barters for the cones for his wife and daughters’ regalia.
The men’s grass dance is also distinguished by regalia with long flowing fringe. Other designs may represent grass blowing.
The men’s fancy dance is highly athletic with a lot of dramatic movement. Men typically wear regalia with two bustles, while the women’s version of the dance features intricate and colorful fringed shawls and elaborate steps.
The traditional dance for both men and women features steps from traditional dances and regalia made of authentic designs and materials.
“A lot of care and a lot of time and a lot of money go into making the regalia,” Iron Cloud said. “You take care of it, and it takes care of you.”
Valdez, his wife Andi, and their four children all participate. Their family has attended pow-wows across the country and in Canada.
“We try to teach our kids to respect what they have on,” he said. The outfits are important articles of their family and may include items that have been handed down or given during naming ceremonies.
But Native children don’t take classes to learn these dances. They learn early on, Valdez said, adding that his wife danced at pow-wows through all four pregnancies.
“My children all had the drumbeat in them when they were born,” he said, adding that he sees that in many Native children.
Andi makes most of the pow-wow outfits the family wears, although sometimes they trade for beadwork or another component. Depending on the dance and the size, she can easily spend a week on one outfit.
With four children, all the different outfits for multiple dances can be quite expensive.
“You know how teenagers are – they want a different outfit for each day,” Valdez said. “A pow-wow is three days.”