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Dancing in the sun

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The SOU Native American Student Union held its first in-person powwow since 2019 Saturday
Photo by Denise Baratta A Tiny Tots dance brings smiles for all at Saturday's powwow in Phoenix.
Photo by Denise Baratta Klamath Tribe member Ian Gallagher dances with his infant grandson, Caliber Dobbins, during Saturday’s powwow at Phoenix High School.
Photo by Denise Baratta Military veterans are honored during the Grand Entry portion of Saturday’s wowwow at Phoenix High School.
Photo by Denise Baratta The powwow for healing drew Native Americans from across the country Saturday.

Powwows were made for dancing and spending time laughing with friends and family, social activities that really have to be done in person, not on a computer screen.

And dance they did Saturday, under sunny skies on the football field at Phoenix High School.

“After the Almeda fire and COVID, we want our community to get together and heal,” said Kayla Dumore, co-chair of the Native American Student Union at Southern Oregon University, and a registered member of the Klamath Tribes.

The Native American Student Union last hosted an in-person powwow in 2019, before the pandemic forced the world indoors and fire roared through the Rogue Valley.

The student union held a virtual powwow over the internet in 2021. But the ability to socialize, renew friendships and make new ones is an integral part of the ritual, making Saturday’s festivities even more special.

Tribes from throughout the West and beyond had ample space and abundant sunshine for dancing, drumming and healing at the 29th annual Spring Powwow, a free event that welcomed the general public.

Healing is an important reason to hold a powwow, and after what the world has been through, it was especially significant at Saturday’s event, said Dumore, one of the event’s organizers.

Dumore highlighted the Jingle dance, Traditional dance and, especially, drumming as particularly healing powwow activities. She planned to participate in two dances during the powwow, along with her responsibilities as an event organizer.

After the first Round dance, the emcee remarked happily, “I haven’t seen a circle that big in a long, long time.”

A Round dance is a welcoming gesture that features a large circle of visitors dancing around while a smaller group of hosts dance within the circle and shake their hands.

Sequoia Gallagher, who attended with family members, said she hadn’t been to a powwow for several years and was enjoying her time at the one Saturday.

One of her small children participated in the Tiny Tots dance, in which parents, grandparents or other loved ones carry a child or take their hand and join a round dance. A Native version of “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” had a good beat and appeared to be easy for dancing.

After that, wrapped candies were sprinkled on the ground so children could easily gather up the ones they liked.

Gallagher said she had a long list of activities she was happy to see in person once again, including “the beautiful regalia” worn by the dancers.

And “the music makes me happy,” she said.

The attire worn by the dancers represents “their lives, interests and family background,” the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage explained in an article about powwows.

Respect and gratitude are highlighted during these events. Tribal dignitaries and military veterans were singled out for recognition Saturday and introduced to the assemblage.

Elders were provided with a special seating section that provided them with a full view of the powwow and easy access to and from the dance area.

Some dances were for anyone willing to join in, and others were competitive events or exhibitions.

Vendors sold merchandise and food, and the Southern Oregon Education Service District’s Indian Education program had a booth at the powwow. Among its services is the Strong Futures Program, which helps Native high school students and their families prepare for success after high school. They offer help with such needs as financial aid and scholarships, service projects, reviewing applications to college and vocational schools, as well as tutoring.

Teresa Cisneros, the district’s Indian education facilitator, said she was pleased with the turnout.

“It’s been very busy,” she said.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.