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Who's Welcome At The NCIPA Pow-wow? You Are

The notion that Pow-wows are only for Native Americans would be like saying rodeos are just for cowboys.

For more than two decades the Northern Colorado Intertribal Pow-wow Association has struggled to overcome a number of misconceptions about this celebratory and reverent event.

Joie Dennis’ Fort Collins living room is lined with Native American artwork and artifacts. Even though she has long studied and admired the culture as a Caucasian, she was reluctant to attend a Pow-wow.

“I didn’t think that we as non-Native Americans were allowed to come,” said Dennis, now an NCIPA (pronounced N-SEE-pa) board member.

That misconception is something Jan Iron, NCIPA’s co-founder and president, has confronted since it was founded 22 years ago.

Instead of an insular cultural event reserved for Native Americans, Iron said people can think of NCIPA’s annual Pow-wow as a sort of county fair.

“You hear the language, and you see and you taste,” Iron said.

NCIPA is an outgrowth of the student Pow-wow that began at Colorado State University. Iron, who is Navajo, said it is a way to educate Native American’s living in Northern Colorado about their cultural heritage. Even for tribes, such as hers, that historically didn’t celebrate Pow-wows.

“It is very important for the continuation of our ways, so that our children being raised in an urban area can be proud of who they are,” Iron said.

With more than 35 tribes from the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region NCIPA’s Pow-wow is the largest Native American gathering in Northern Colorado. It showcases song, dance, food, crafts and artist demonstrations.

NCIPA’s Intertribal Pow-wow showcases the varied customs and traditions observed by individual tribes, which Joie Dennis pointed out are often regarded singularly.

“We, as non-Native Americans, have a tendency to group them together as one unit, as one culture,” Dennis said. “It’s like saying that all Europeans are alike.”

Iron said revisionist history has glossed over many of the gory details of American government treatment of Native American tribes. She added that Pow-wow’s are also an opportunity to celebrate how tribes have endured.

“Often times people refer to us as the invisible people, the invisible culture, the forgotten people. All these different terms and I believe that’s true,” Iron said.

For Native Americans, performing as part of the Pow-wow is a right bestowed on them by other members of their community. As Jan Iron can attest, family members or friends present gifts on their behalf, which earns them the “right” to take part.

“It is respect for the arena. Respect for the traditions,” Iron said. “We are a giving society. We always give and value that more than receiving.”

Iron’s son, Dwayne Iron earned the right to play drum and sing at Pow-wows in 1996.

“It’s pretty exciting going to Pow-wows,” Dwayne Iron, 23, said. “I just look forward to singing. Like, right now i’m just antsy for a Powow.”

Many of the songs he likes to perform meld contemporary music techniques and traditional Native American approaches.

“A lot of Round Dance songs today have English lyrics. And they talk about love or break-ups or jealousy just to have humor in it,” he said.

Those new, contemporary influences on traditional Native American song and dance spill over into even younger generations.

Sisters Amaya and Mariah Quintana, ten and eight years-old respectively, perform a style of dance known as Jingle. It's a performance that requires a garment adorned with silver triangular bells. But Mariah Quintana’s jingle dress includes neon pink and green accents and an image of Tinkerbell from Walt Disney.

Jan Iron said this cultural fusion is common today among younger generations.

“For little kids, I see a lot of that,” Iron said. “Sometimes they will have Minnie Mouse or Hello Kitty. That just helps them to enjoy being who they are, just little kids, but they’re also representing their Native American side.”

The Quintana sisters said they often help their mother, who makes their attire, determine stylistic additions for their Pow-wow garments. Amaya Quintana added she often tells her non-native American classmates about her involvement in Pow-wows, such as this weekend’s NCIPA event.

“I feel proud that I am Native American and that I get to share this culture with other people,” Amaya Quintana said.

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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