A proud tribute to armed forces

Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow celebrates veterans and active-duty military this weekend
Eagle staffs, flags representing nations, communities and families, tribal royalty and veterans begin the Grand Entry at a past Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow.Photo courtesy of Anna Diehl

Colorful regalia, drumming, dancing, song and feasting to celebrate and honor all members of the armed forces is set for this weekend at the 15th annual Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, 8495 Crater Lake Highway, White City. The powwow is dedicated to veterans and active-duty military service members.

"The story of the veterans powwow goes back to the late '70s and early '80s," says David West, director of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University.

If you go

What: Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow

When: Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3

Where: Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, 8495 Crater Lake Highway, White City

Admission: Free

Call: 541-601-3627 or see www.roguevalleyveteranspowwow.org

"An elder called Chief Bullock of the former Indian education program of Jackson County schools was always telling us — members of the Native American community — to get the Veterans Administration to hold a powwow thanking all veterans for their service," says West, who is of the Potawatomi tribe.

Veterans and military personnel hold a special place in Native American culture. Bullock was a survivor of the 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II.

Bullock's idea came to fruition when West, along with Native Americans Randy Gunlock, Jim Prevatt, Nick Hall and Tom Smith, formed a small group and held a tiny powwow in 1997 in one of the buildings on the White City base. After that, the ballpark at the base was made available to the group.

"As American Indians, we celebrate our people in song and dance," West says.

Gourd dancing will kick off the event at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, at the ballpark.

"Gourd dancing comes from the Kiowa people of the Southern Great Plains," West says. "Its style is like that of line dancing. This weekend, the gourd dances will be presented in recognition of military and civilian service to our communities and native nations."

The powwow begins with the Grand Entries, set for 1 and 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Eagle staffs and flags representing nations, communities and families start the procession, followed by any veterans and active-duty service members who wish to participate. Next comes any royalty visiting from tribes across the country. Handouts at the event will provide details.

Head man Lynn Schonchin of the Klamath/Modoc tribes will start the dancing.

"The powwow dancing is freestyle within different categories, such as men and women's traditional, grass dancers — younger men and boys who bless the arena — the women's jingle dance, the men's fast and fancy and the women's fast and fancy shawl dance," West says. "The last one is way fast, full of rapid drum beats, and the regalia is very colorful. There's lots of movement, color and pageantry."

The celebration will break at 5 p.m. Saturday for a feast of fried chicken, turkey, ham, salads and desserts.

"There will be Indian tacos — fried bread with chili, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes," Hall says, "along with hot dogs, nachos, snow cones, sodas, fruit punch, fried bread with butter and honey or fruit jam. A lot of people will bring food, so there will be plenty for everyone."

Admission to the powwow and the feast is free; crafts, food from vendors and Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow T-shirts will be available at various costs.

After Saturday's feast, at dusk, there will be a spiritual healing ceremony for those who attend. The event comes to a close at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

No weapons, drugs or alcohol will be allowed at the powwow.

"The powwow is a noncompetitive gathering, a thanksgiving for the sacrifice of the men and women of the armed forces," West says. "It's also a time that we recognize Gold Star and Blue Star parents."

Gold Star parents are those who have lost children in combat, and Blue Star parents have children in active duty.

The gourd drum, named Jononaai, will be played by Chet Clark of the Navajo; host drum Steiger Butte will be played by a family group from the Klamath tribe; and honor drum Whistling Elk will be played by Dan Wahpepah of the Ojibwa.

Arena director will be Tony Whitehead of the Siletz tribe, and emcee will be Bob Tom of the Grand Ronde.

Call 541-601-3627 or see www.roguevalleyveteranspowwow.org for information.

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