Clara Caufield: Broke tribe spends chunk of change on powwow

The following is the opinion of Clara Caufield. All content © Native Sun News.

A poster for this year's powwow. Image from Northern Cheyenne Tribe

Whatever happened to the ‘Community-based’ powwows?
By Clara Caufield
A Cheyenne Voice

Summer time is primary Pow Wow time in Indian Country.

Although these celebrations are held year round, in the Great Plains region that is when the Pow Wow Circuit comes into full flower – each Tribe hosting its annual intertribal celebration on roughly the same dates each year. Northern Cheyenne, for example, is known for the 4th of July Pow Wow, formally called the “Chiefs” Pow Wow, but this year re-dubbed the Veterans Pow Wow.

We all look forward to it. It is a time for camping; many of our off-reservation relatives come home to visit; a time for give-aways to honor those who have made accomplishments or memorials for loved ones; hand games; rodeo; contest dancing and welcoming old and new friends from other Tribes etc. During Pow Wow time we are on our finest behavior and ever gracious to guests and visitors.

I, too, love Pow Wow and am careful not to denigrate this wonderful tradition. However, there is one troubling aspect about our Pow Wow: the amount of tribal funding dedicated to this event nowadays.

This year, our Pow Wow budget was $141,000. That may not be excessive compared to other Tribes, especially the rich Casino or resource Tribes. It is, however, quite a chunk for a Tribe that is broke, like Northern Cheyenne.

The biggest part of that funding came from corporate donations, but $50,000 was budgeted from the Northern Cheyenne Permanent Fund, a capital fund derived from the Water Rights Settlement exclusively to benefit tribal members with charitable, educational and cultural needs.

It can be argued that the Pow Wow is a cultural event that benefits all the Cheyenne people. But, at a recent Lame Deer District meeting, some tribal members presented a different point of view.

“We have 80-90% unemployment and poverty,” one outspoken critic, “Mustard” Redcherries said. “When we go to the Tribal office to request assistance for medical appointments, food, light bills or other emergency situations, we hear that the Tribe is broke. Yet, the Council can show off for other Tribes at the Pow Wow. That money ($50,000) would be better used to help our people.”

I think she has a point. Sometime in the past decade or so, the method for funding the Pow Wow has changed. Now, the Tribal Council runs the Pow Wow, able to appeal to corporate sponsors who either do business with the Tribe or want to. And, they have the authority to dig into tribal funds to make up the difference.

Years ago, it was not that way. The Cheyenne used to appoint Pow Wow Committees comprised of community members. Most often they would call upon children, a great honor to the parents, grandparents and extended families.

I know this because years ago my children were frequently Pow Wow Committee members, a great honor, especially to their traditional grandparents. It then fell to the families to spend an entire year fund raising and making personal contributions to the Pow Wow budget.

We held bake sales, bingo games, rummage sales and benefit dances. Benefit dances brought the community together for feasts, social dancing and “blanket dances” to gather donations. This tradition is rapidly going by the wayside. We did not bother the Tribe for funding (at the time the Tribe didn’t have any money), instead it was a matter of personal pride for the Committee to generate funds to put on a good Pow Wow, often making up shortfalls out of personal pocket.

Of course, we did not approach the budgets allotted to today’s Pow Wow’s, but still managed to put on fine celebrations. Most often, the prizes for various contests were sponsored by individual committee or community members. Under that traditional system, the community felt a great sense of ownership in the 4th of July and other Pow Wows.

Nobody, including me, argues with a Pow Wow extravaganza. But, lots of folks, including many elders, Mustard and even the Tribal President Llevando Fisher, question whether the Tribe should use extremely limited funding for the Pow Wow when it could be used to directly benefit Cheyenne families who are in extreme distress. In summary, what is the best use of extremely limited tribal resources?

That is why I suggest it is time to go back to community-based Pow Wow Committees. The Cheyenne will rise to the occasion, welcoming the opportunity to have their family members and children honored. Under that scenario, we might not raise the same amount of money, but aren’t we counseled to give what we have and can afford? Then the Tribal Council could get on with raising money instead of spending it.

(Clara Caufield can be reached at acheyennevoice@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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