The hypnotic beat grew louder, drawing attention to the arena below. THATHoom THATHoom THATHOOM. The pulsing drums set the pace for dances performed at the 43rd Annual Denver March Powwow. Each had its own speed and rhythm. They resonate a feeling of pride and excitement. A feeling of home.
“The first heartbeat you hear is your mother’s in the womb,” Drummer Doug Goodfeather said. “The drums represent the heartbeat of mother earth.”
Goodfeather has been dancing since he was three years old. He explained that powwows are a place to make friends and relatives and meet brothers and sisters. Goodfeather has been coming to the event
since he moved to Denver 17 years ago.
“I missed a few times. I’m former military and was stationed in Iraq four years,” he said.
The Denver March PowWow, held at the Denver Coliseum March 24 to 26, was the kickoff to the powwow season.
Lawrence Baker has been the emcee for 14 years, a tradition that began with his grandfather who was the Denver March PowWow’s first announcer.
Baker, who travels every year from North Dakota, said the powwow provides the opportunity to interact with non-Native Americans.
“It gives them a chance to understand us as a culture,” Baker said. “You want to find out about our people, it’s not enough to watch a movie or read about us.”
Tanya Tootoosis came from Saskatchewan, Canada with her partner, she is Plains Cree and danced Old Style Jingle this year. Her partner is Nakota tribe and danced Traditional style.
The powwow had different dance contests for men and women, categorized by age and style. Each dance has its own regalia and contestants must make sure that what they wear is suitable for their division.
Tootoosis’s family did the beadwork on her outfit. The Plains Cree flowers are represented with the colors. The regalia for Old Style Jingle consists of metal cones often made from chewing tobacco lids. There can be over 100 cones on one dress. The sound they make during the dance is much like the burst of a summer shower pelting a metal roof. It grabs the audience, mesmerizing with its legendary healing abilities.
Tootoosis and her partner arrived in Denver on Friday. They travel to different areas, attending various powwows.
“We exchange information and share stories,” she said. “We take those stories and go back and share them to people that stayed home. Not everyone gets to travel. It’s about teaching each other.”
The Pow Wow is also an opportunity to show off new regalia. Bright colors surrounded the arena. Every
outfit had unique handmade designs. Eagle and hawk feathers adorned many of them in different patterns. They were especially noticeable on regalia that had a bustle, part of a man’s outfit that consists of a string of feathers attached to a backboard in the shape of a U.
Goodfeather, who competed in the Fancy dance, had two bustles with feathers the color of fresh clover as part of his regalia. He designed the outfit and his friends created it. Depending on its complexity, it can take up to two months to make one of these outfits. He said everyone at the powwow is very competitive, but at the end they are still all friends.
The Denver March PowWow included all walks of life, gathered to learn about a culture that withstood much abuse. Baker noted that there is a lot of hate in today’s world.
“We’re not haters, we’re survivors,” he said. “Everyday is a creation of life, and it’s such a blessing. We want to share what we have as a people.”
Goodfeather hopes that people who attend the powwow will see that everybody has a story.
“Don’t read between the lines,” he said. “If you want to know us, ask somebody who lives this. We’re here. We don’t live in teepees. We live in regular houses. We’re regular people. Look at us as your relatives.”