JACKSON, Wyo. — UPDATE: Tomorrow’s powwow will happen regardless of weather so head to the Teton County Fairgrounds to witness this spectacular event. The festivities will start around noon.
Jackson sits just over two hours from the fifth-largest American Indian reservation in the country, but the native history of Teton County can sometimes feel worlds away. Thanks to help from the Town of Jackson and CWC’s Jackson campus, American Indians from neighboring communities and from right here in Jackson will proudly display their heritage at the Teton County Fairgrounds.
On September 21, Central Wyoming College and CWC United Tribes Club will host Jackon’s first contemporary powwow to honor and celebrate American Indian culture and history.
“The reality of having a powwow held in the town of Jackson is sort of a homecoming for Indigenous people from the Rocky Mountain Region and others who once inhabited the area for gathering and camping. My hope is that it will be an annual event to introduce people and have them enjoy and participate in one of the rich cultures of our tribes,” said Ivan Posey, CWC Tribal Education Coordinator, Eastern Shoshone Tribal member and coordinator of the Institute of Tribal Learning.
What’s a Powwow?
A powwow is, most simply, a social gathering. But it is also a competition, said CWC Jackson Director Susan Durfee. Tribal members from various tribes come together to compete in various dance forms. Each tribe performs a dance, and each dance is partnered with traditional, corresponding regalia. From headdresses to shawls, the attire is as expressive as the movement and associated with a particular dance form. At the end of the day, a panel of judges organized by a Master of Ceremony will vote on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners.
CWC’s powwow is student-run, so it’s a little less formal but no less spectacular. The dancing lasts all day, from the grand entrance at 1 p.m. ’till the sun begins to set at 6 p.m. And while it’s going on, an American Indian fair of sorts will offer artisan crafts, food, and educational opportunities.
“We look forward to this opportunity to have a powwow in Jackson,” said Angelo Sage, CWC tribal student and member of the United Tribes Club. “We expect several members to our club this fall which means more help and more involvement. It’ll work out great!”
Jackson steps up
CWC’s United Tribes Club has presented powwows in Riverton before, but despite Jackson’s rich Native American history, contemporary Jackson has yet to see or host one in recent record.
Durfee wanted to change that. Only .9% of Teton County residents are American Indian, but “just 2.5 hours away is the fifth largest reservation in the country, with ancestral history in the Jackson Hole area,” Durfee said. Durfee reached out to the Town of Jackson about funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, hoping to have it in the budget for next year. The Town said absolutely, and right away, and allocated $5,000 toward the powwow and a DEI workshop.
“That’s a really big deal,” Durfee said. “We’re really excited about that.”
Shortly after, the Wyoming Humanities Council offered another $5,000, specifically for prizes. The Community Foundation gave them a $5,500 grant. Everything just fell into place.
Integration or identity
Considering the history of violence and cultural whitewashing American Indians have endured, powwows are an increasingly valuable expression of identity.
That’s almost equally as important for viewers, Durfee said.
“This powwow is one example of how we as a community can learn about and appreciate the traditions and diversity that has lived on in the Wind River Reservation and other tribal communities.”
Durfee has only seen one other powwow before, in Ft. Washakie. What stood out to her was how powerfully connected everyone — participants and viewers alike — seemed to be. “You could feel the strength of community in that process,” Durfee said.
It’s also invaluable for audiences, particularly white audiences, to experience Native culture and pride in its truest expression. The conversation about cultural assimilation and integration — trying to blend in with the dominant culture — versus cultural identity and community, is enormous. But this powwow, Durfee said, suggests that it’s starting to happen here.
“This is a sharing of a culture that is part of our neighborhood,” Durfee said.
Festivities kick off at noon September 21 in the grassy area at Teton County Fairgrounds. Bring a lawn chair, some spending money for food and crafts, and a hearty appetite for culture and education.
Want to be a part of this special day? CWC needs volunteers! Contact Susan Durfee, firstname.lastname@example.org.