As a child, Jeanette Aasted was raised in a foster home by white parents, but longed to learn about her roots as an American Indian from the Muckleshoot tribe.
Now, at 53, Aasted is doing just that, having traveled two days by bus and train from Washington state to attend the 22nd Gathering of Nations. The three-day event beginning Friday is billed as the largest powwow in North America.
“I know there are other ways than the ways I was raised with,” Aasted said Thursday after purchasing tickets to the event. “If I open my heart, I can learn more about the Indian ways.”
The event is expected to attract members of some 500 American Indian tribes and include more than 3,000 traditional dancers and hundreds of artisans and vendors.
Chris Riley, an Ojibwe and Potawattomi artist from Ontario, Canada, said he created a series of prints depicting animals that he hopes to sell at the gathering.
“I call these works ‘Legends From the Trail,'” said Riley, 38. “Selling prints is new to me. So I’m excited and curious to know if people are going to want to buy them.”
The art makes it easy for him to start conversations with others, Riley said.
“There’s always somebody that wants to share a part of their culture and how they do things where they’re from,” he said. “For example, if a bear in my painting has certain symbolism to me, it might mean something else to them.”
For Crows Williams, a Paiute and Navajo who drove to the event from Bishop, Calif., the powwow will be a chance to enjoy his rich heritage.
“I can’t wait to see the grass dance by the Cheyennes,” he said. “You feel a lot of energy. It makes me feel more alive. I can’t describe it. You have to see it to feel it.”
Aasted, who works as a maid in Tacoma, Wash., brought her 15-year-old daughter, Irene Jimmy, with her. She hopes Irene will be crowned Miss Indian World or win a prize for performing a traditional dance called the butterfly dance.
“There’s going to be some big competition,” she told her daughter.
Irene has already been named queen of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington state – even though she’s a Muckleshoot.
“I like to show that I care about every other tribe besides mine,” the high school freshman said.
Irene said she’s most interested in socializing with other Indians.
“It’s important for me to be here,” she said. “This is one place where I could never be ashamed to be Native American.”