Comanche Chief Luis Tijerina is in mourning. His mother-in-law passed away in January, and tradition dictates he cannot enter the drum circle until the anniversary of her death.
“You would dishonor yourself and you would dishonor the other dancers in there,” Tijerina says, sitting in the break room at Odessa College Sports Center.
The chief is in mourning, but the chief is also happy Saturday at the 13th Permian Basin Inter-tribal Powwow. He’s happy because of what’s happening in the arena.
People with Native American lineage are dancing the dances of their ancestors. They’re performing their rituals, they’re congregating with each other and with non-native attendees, and they’re teaching their folkways to younger generations, preserving them.
As the chief’s exclusion from the circle illustrates, the powwow is steeped in folkways and spirituality that are serious. It’s a spectacle worth watching, but it’s not merely for show.
Before the powwow even started, Tijerina walked through the venue with sage, blessing it. And as people entered Saturday morning, a Gourd Dance honored veterans and blessed the drum circle.
In the Grand Entry that followed, dancers in Native-American regalia celebrating their culture.
Take Odessan and Navajo Larry Campbell for example, who wore a Northern Traditional outfit with black-and-white face paint that symbolized peace and love; mirrors that warded off unwanted and uninvited spirits; mink, lime cloth and red-tail hawk feathers, “because you want to meet your creator in your finest outfit.”
A powwow, Campbell, explained, “is a gathering of people to build new and old relationships.” Campbell, watching kids and adults perform a Southern Straight Dance, said he was pleased.
Twenty-three tribes registered for the event, with people coming all the way from Seneca, N.Y. There were many vendors with crafts, jewelry, and instruments such as drums and wooden flutes. There were artists too, like Arnulfo Peña, Mescalero Apache and adopted Zuni from Dallas who painted an acrylic Comanche on a stallion paying tribute to the sunrise, by request. “It’s a spiritual thing for me,” he said. “It gives me a chance to connect with my roots.”
And there was food, like the Navajo taco Colleen Oehlschlager split with her friend Daphne Miles.
“I just like to watch the dancers,” said Oehlschlager, who knew of no Native American’s in her family tree. “The camaraderie between them, the relationships between them, it’s fun to watch.”
Twelve-year-old dancer Robbie Downing came from Big Spring with her dad, Robert Downing. Robbie said her dad taught her at about 3. He learned to dance as a boy from his Kiowa grandmother.
“The Native American way of life is a dying thing, because it’s been assimilated into the culture,” said Robert Downing, holding an eagle-wing fan. “The kids are not carrying it on, but it’s important that they at least know where they come from.”
Robbie dressed in a pink prayer dress with adorned with jingles made from snuff lids. The older women danced more stoically and slow, while Robbie skipped and jumped.
“I’m going to keep dancing until I can’t walk, until my legs give out.” Robbie said.
She danced with her friend Audreyana Fuentes, also 12, who was watched by her grandmother of the Yaqui nation, and her great-father, who danced himself at age 80.
The chief was in mourning, and the chief is tired. He’s been working hard, and putting on a powwow is stressful. But the Tijerina is happy. He points to two-year-old Emmarie Valencia, who has been one of the youngest dancers of the day. “They’re like sponges at that age. She’s going to be the new generation going out to dance.” he says. The girl is soaking it all up, Tijerina says: the music and dances, the customs, the respect. “This is family time for us.”
IF YOU GO:
Sunday, Sept. 30
>> 10 a.m.
-Doors open to the public
- Gourd Dancing
-Presentation of Head Staff
-Gold Star Mothers Ceremony
>> 5 p.m.