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American Indian Museum Sponsors Celebration of Dance, Music and Culture

Second National Powwow brings Native Americans to Washington

Posted: August 10, 2005

Washington -- Some 800 Native American singers, dancers and drummers from throughout the Western Hemisphere will showcase their talent in dancing and drumming competitions at the second National Powwow in Washington, D.C., August 12-14.

Thousands of visitors from the United States and abroad are expected to attend the three-day festival -- a celebration of dance, music and culture hosted by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).

Dancers representing hundreds of tribal nations and ranging in age from six years old to over 50 years old will compete for $100,000 in prize money. There is also a competition for drum groups.

The powwow “will be a wonderful opportunity for the museum to share the thrilling experience of competition dancing,” said Richard West, NMAI director and a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

This festival is one of a series of events that the museum is hosting to fulfill its mission to “enhance the development, maintenance, and perpetuation of Native culture and community.”

Participants from all over the United States and Canada, as well as other Western Hemisphere nations including Peru, Bolivia and Chile, have been invited to take part in the festival.

The Smithsonian’s National Powwow is one of several such events that take place regularly in the United States, including the Denver March in Colorado, the Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma, and the Gathering of Nations Powwow in New Mexico.

Some Native Americans travel on a powwow circuit. These dancers and drummers typically “get in cars going from one powwow to the next,” explained Leonda Levchuck, a NMAI representative. “Ours is just one stop in many.”

The NMAI first opened on September 21, 2004, and is the newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It recognizes and honors the rich history and cultural tradition of the Native American, a central figure in the history of the Americas.

The museum and events such as the powwow are representative of an increased interest in Native American culture in the United States and worldwide, Levchuck said. She remarked that a large number of reporters from the European media, including representatives from the Ukraine, Russia and Germany, attended the opening of the museum last year.

There is also a much greater acceptance of Native American heritage and culture now, said Levchuck, who is Navajo. “Fifteen to twenty years ago, it wasn’t acceptable to say you were native,” she said. “Now more people are interested in finding their native heritage.”

A research center in the museum allows members of the more than 500 native nations in the Americas to learn more about their ancestry. The museum, which is located on the National Mall, also houses the most comprehensive collection of American Indian cultural objects in the world.

The term "powwow" derived from Narragansett, an eastern Algonquian language, according to the Smithsonian. Its meaning has evolved over the years, and in Indian Country it came to mean a "secular event featuring group singing and social dancing by men, women, and children."

A Smithsonian brochure on the National Powwow describes the roles of the drums, singers and dancers during a powwow. The head singer, who guides the drum, uses his extensive knowledge of tribal songs to play both new compositions and traditional songs that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Two broad singing styles characterize the powwow — the high-pitched singing and fast drumbeat of the northern Plains, and the low-pitched, slow beat of the southern Plains.

Among the criteria that dancers are judged by are how well they stayed in beat with the drums, and the quality of their regalia.

During the three-day event, native food and crafts will be available for purchase on site. Food vendors will offer traditional cuisine including Indian tacos, frybread, and corn soup, while award-winning jewelers and artisans will sell authentic arts and crafts.

The National Powwow will be held at the MCI Center in downtown Washington.

Additional information is available at the NMAI Web site.

Elizabeth Farabee
Washington File Staff Writer

 
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