By Chesley Oxendine
Wesley Norris said the gourd dance he performed Saturday was not only a way to pay respect to soldiers, but also was soothing.
“There’s a healing spirit around that drum, and it’s really amazing,” Norris said.
Muskogee’s Civic Center played host to Bacone College’s annual Fall Powwow Saturday afternoon, which saw dancers, artists and vendors come together to celebrate Native American culture.
Visitors were invited to browse crafts ranging from beaded jewelry to tribal music before settling in the central arena, filled with rhythmic percussion courtesy of a central drum group. Participants moved steadily across the arena floor dressed in colorful regalia.
One such participant was Tulsa dancer Peyton Wolf, 7, and Norris, his grandfather. Both joined in the afternoon gourd dance, a traditional Kiowa dance in honor of warriors and veterans.
Norris said his wife, Kristi Wolf-Norris, a member of the Kiowa tribe, had to secure permission for him to perform the dance.
“She had to ask her elders if I could come out and dance today,” he said. “They’ve seen me for years; they know I’m respectful.”
The gourd dancing proved Peyton’s most anticipated part of every powwow, the 7-year-old said.
“I really enjoy coming to powwows, and dancing is my favorite part,” he said.
For Santo Domingo, N.M., native Joe Chama, the best aspect of any powwow was the people, and Bacone’s event was no different.
“I came out for Tahlequah’s Fall Festival in September, and I remember I really liked the location and the people here,” Chama said. “I told myself if there was anything else going on I was going to come out. I really like the people I’ve met so far.”
Chama’s booth sold beaded bracelets and hair clips, most of which were Pueblo Indian design.
“Pueblos are known for their crafts, their turquoise jewelry,” he said. “I do all the work on these myself.”
As afternoon became evening, more dancers poured into the arena for contest dancing, including a memorial competition for late Bacone student Chris Tsosie.
For the college, the powwow remained a way to show the school’s historical commitment to American Indian education, according to organizer Kyle Taylor.
“For us, this is a good way to honor our culture,” Taylor said. “There’s not a better way than a powwow.”
Taylor said such cultural celebrations assisted Bacone’s Native American students academically.
“It’s called cultural inclusion,” he said. “Culture has been proven to increase the ability for Indians to learn.”
Taylor also described the powwow as a “win-win” for the community at large, however.
“Anytime you have arts and culture, it has an incredible, positive impact on any community,” he said. “We give something back to the community. They get to experience a different culture.”