Native Sun News: Thousands drawn to 24th Black Hills Powwow
The following story was written and reported by Randall Howell. All content © Native Sun News.

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA –– They came. And they danced.

Then, they went home spiritually renewed by the 24th Annual Black Hills Powwow.

It’s an annual event that, this year, drew hundreds upon hundreds of American Indian dancers and nearly three dozen drums.

More than a 3,000 spectators also were drawn to the powwow, crowding the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center from the ground-floor bleachers into the second-story seats for the three-day event, which ended Sunday, Oct.10 – on the eve of Native American Day in South Dakota.

More than 35 drum groups ringed the powwow floor as recreational dancers and competitive dancers alike brought honor to their tribes with representatives from throughout Indian country.

By Sunday evening, with the $50,000 in prize money going to the top competition dancers, the powwow outfits were packed for the road back home to more than 50 reservations, ending Indian country’s summer powwow season.

About 600 competition dancers were geared for competition by Saturday evening, according to Ruben Little Head of Ashland, Mont., Northern Cheyenne, who served as Master of Ceremonies. Little Head now makes his home in San Diego, Calif. An estimated 1,200 dancers were registered for the powwow, half of them recreational with the other half competing in categories that ranged from women’s traditional to fancy shawl and from men’s traditional to fancy grass.

Little Head asked for and got a moment of silence Saturday evening when he learned and announced that a police officer was “shot in the line of duty” that day on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation at Eagle Butte.

“We hate to hear news like that,” Little Head said to a respectful audience. “But we want our thoughts and prayers to go out to that officer’s family and friends.” A Northern Cheyenne honor song followed the announcement.

With his characteristic sense of humor, Little Head brought the audience back to life by encouraging “handshakes and smooches” among friends and neighbors on and off the powwow dance floor.

Tribal flags and eagle staffs were not only abundant, but also circled the dance floor in the hands of veterans from as far away as New York State and as close as Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation.

Pat Black Elk of Pine Ridge carried the flag of the Oglala Nation – host tribe for the powwow, which featured dozens of tables displaying handmade items from beadwork to star quilts.

On Saturday evening, the grand entry honored veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With gunfire salutes, those veterans circled the floor as many as seven times on Saturday evening to be sure that “the honor among them” wasted no space for the presence of dancers determined to delight those drinking in the spiritual energy of an event that continues to put the Black Hills in the end-of-season forefront

Virgil Taken Alive of Little Eagle on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation introduced veterans to the applause of an audience well aware of the high rate of military service that American Indian warriors have provided the United States throughout history.

Among those honored during Saturday’s evening session of the powwow was Tim Giago, publisher and editor of Native Sun News. Giago received a star quilt for his decades of service as a journalist, writer, editor and author in the cause of free speech in Indian country.

Perhaps, even more significantly, Giago also was honored for his relentless push to unify Indians and non-Indians by spearheading the change from Columbus Day to Native American Day in South Dakota – the only state in the union to do so.

“For us … for Native Americans … Columbus Day was not a holiday but a disaster,” said Giago, a Lakota from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “Instead, we needed a day honoring American Indians.”

In addition, Giago, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, was saluted for his successful efforts to get the late Republican Gov. George Mickelson to declare 1990 “The Year of Reconciliation” in South Dakota. Ten years later, Giago has been successful in helping get Gov. Mike Rounds, also a Republican, to declare 2010 “The Year of Unity” in South Dakota.

Giago reminded dancers and member of the powwow audience that both acts proclaiming unity came from Republican governors – governors “from a political party that has a reputation, deservedly or not, of ignoring the needs of American Indians.”

The long-time South Dakota newspaper owner and publisher said “that, right there, shows us the potential for unity” in this state, where Native American mostly vote for candidates of the Democratic Party.

And, given that it’s an election year, several GOP office seekers appeared at the powwow podium on Saturday, including Kristi Noem, who is seeking the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by incumbent Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD).

Also introduced was incumbent Marty J. Jackley (R-SD), candidate for re-election to the office of South Dakota’s attorney general. Jackley is being challenged by Democratic Party candidate Ron Volesky of Huron.

During Sunday afternoon’s session, dancers and audience members were invited to next year’s quarter-century celebration of the 25th annual Black Hills Powwow.

Contact Randall Howell