Grants Pass, Oregon. Recently at Riverside Park there was a gathering of Native Americans representing tribes from all over America. This PowWow was held to give thanks to Mother Earth for the land, water and air we all share. All of this was in friendship one with another and with the Father.
To Native American people a PowWow is their way of meeting together, to join in on dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making new ones. This is a time to renew their thoughts of the old ways and to preserve the rich heritage they all share.
“This is so enjoyable,” said Morning Dove, “The diversification with the story telling, performing arts . . . I’m loving this.”
With tents set up, dancers, singers and story tellers ready, the PowWow was ready to begin.
Indians and guests quietly sat down on the cool grass in a wide circle stemming from where the master of ceremonies stood.
An elderly warrior walked over to the microphone. He spoke of Mother Nature and how all should show honor to the mother of the earth, and to thank the Father above for the air that is breathed, the winds that blow, the foods that we have . . . and for all we have received in our lifetime. He then sang, in his native tongue, a song that has been sung for centuries. A song of peace, respect, love and honor.
“It’s about respect for Mother Nature and the land, and to each other,” said Jason Sapp of Grants Pass. His wife Marie added, “We also pray for a good harvest season.”
As the singers chant, the audience settles in for an afternoon of good entertainment and history.
After a short while the MC announces how it’s time for the dancers. At a PowWow dancing has always been a very important part. For the American Indian this is a way of life, one of the ways they would pass down legends from one generation to another.
Within minutes the drums start a rhythmic beat as the chanters sing along. One by one the grass dancers enter the circle. First to come in was the bear dancer, then followed by two others in traditional fringed costumes, each carrying a bundle of smoldering spiritual herbs held tightly in one hand and a fan of feathers in the other.
As they danced around the circle, with great enthusiasm, the dancers would slow down and fan smoke onto whomever desired this to take place. The person receiving the smoke would extend their arms toward it, drawing it in. They would do this about two or three times and then the grass dancer would move on.
“We perform one of the oldest dancing styles in American Indian culture,” said Lowicha Falls-Rock. “The grass dancers come out first before the others to make the circle spiritually ready for the other dancers.”
Lowicha Falls-Rock, a14-year-old grass dancer from Grants Pass, is a very special young man, who had much to say regarding the PowWow and his linage tribes and culture.
“I think it’s great to have gatherings of all colors, cultures and tribes. Here everybody is family, we love everyone,” said Lowicha Falls-Rock. “My ancestral past is very colorful, for I have the bloods of several tribes flowing through me, such as the Plains Indians of the Sioux and the Lakota. I also have the Pit River tribe of California, too.”
His forefathers would be pleased with how Lowicha Falls-Rock has turned out. When asked why he puts in so much time and energy into his dance and tribal history he said, “I would much rather do this than to be part of a gang. I think it’s a lot better to be recognized here as being who I am than to be elsewhere and being a fake.”
Being a tribe member means you must behave yourself at all times.
“We do not wish to get into trouble causing dishonor to the tribe, family, culture and self,” said Lowicha Falls-Rock, “Also, this is much more fun.”
Soon it was time for all the dancers to enter into the circle. Here the precession was headed by two elderly warriors in full tribal dress. They were followed by grass dancers and the others who had shared their talents, stories and dance legends. Next in line were the women dressed in lavish dresses of soft leathers, some with beads and feather trims.
Close to evening it was time for everyone to become friends, brothers and sisters in spirit. The dancers formed a small circle within the circle of spectators. As they danced, a few people got up and entered into the dancing area, facing the smaller circle. Soon a larger circle completely encompassed the smaller circle of dancers.
Both circles were rotating in opposite directions to the other. As the dancers and spectators passed each other, they would gently shake hands and then move on to the next person. Round and round the people and dancers went until each person was truly convinced that they were now all friends.
There were many families at the PowWow, bringing up their children to remember and understand the ways that once were, and comparing to how they are now. Remembering their heritage is very important to today’s Native American.
Revati Dasa is known to most of the local Indians as an authority on herbs for smudging. When asked what smudging is all about he said, “Smudging is simply distributing the smoke of an herb for its medical benefits.”
According to Dasa, you can use all different kinds of herbs for various reasons. White sage brings about clarity and clears self and environment of negative influences. Sweet grass is very healing and brings about peace and contentment.
Placing dried sage in a bowl, Dasa lit it and allowed it to burn for a few seconds, then he blew out the flame. As it smoldered, smoke rose above into the air. With a feathered fan he fanned the smoke around a lady, while chanting a prayer that she would receive joy, peace and all that the Holy Spirit had in store for her at His time.
“All have an aurora that surrounds them,” said Dasa, “Different energies cling to this and sage clears negative energy away. If you have a sad happening in your home then burn sage and allow the smoke to rise. Make sure to have all the doors and windows open so that the smoke can leave taking the negative energy with it.”
Dasa’s granddaughter, nine-year-old Misha Lakes, climbed onto her grandfather’s lap and added her own bit of herbal knowledge, “Cedar is very good too. It’s like the white sage. Cedar is a spiritual plant and smells real good.”
As the sun set behind the hills of Grants Pass, all who were at the PowWow had much to think about, and a few stories of their own to share with others. Sunday would be the last day of togetherness, then they would depart and dream of next year when once again they would hear the drums and chants of a bygone day.
05/12/2004 Dorene Stamper, applegateoregonnews.com