Aspen powwow will be celebration of life, Indigenous culture

Shining Mountains Easter Powwow takes place at Aspen High School this weekend

Denver resident Hale Brown, left, teaches Roaring Fork Valley local Charlotte McNellis how to dance during the inter-tribal dance period of the Shining Mountains Pow Wow held at Aspen High School on Saturday, April 13, 2019.
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times archives

Buffalo Child has seen the ways powwows can connect and reconnect people — separated, sometimes, for four or five decades — at these gatherings that celebrate life and Indigenous culture.

“Sometimes you’d have two old friends who had never seen each other for 40 or 50 years; they’d come to powwow, reacquaint themselves at the powwow,” the Aspen Indigenous Foundation’s special events coordinator and cultural adviser said. “They’d be telling stories of something that happened to them 50 years ago, just like it was yesterday — they’d be sharing these memories and these stories.”

One of those gatherings, the Shining Mountains Easter Powwow, takes place Saturday at Aspen High School, coordinated by the Aspen Indigenous Foundation. It’s the second iteration of the event; the first happened in 2019.

“Highly regarded” elders and “tiny tots,” champion dancers old and new and everyone in between will participate in the powwow this weekend, Buffalo Child said. He estimated that there could be “100 or more different tribes” represented, including participants from the Arapahoe, Apache, Cheyenne, Cree, Lakota Nakota and Ute tribes.

All are welcome and encouraged not only to watch but to participate in the programming, as well.

“We’ll have the public join in, so even if they’re not native, they will join in for some inter-tribal dances,” Buffalo Child said.


Buffalo Child performs a hoop dance. | Buffalo Child/Courtesy photo

What: Shining Mountains Easter Powwow

When: Saturday from 1-8 pm. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

Where: Aspen High School

Admission: $10 for the general public; $5 for students, seniors and veterans; free for children 12 and under

The powwow is a place to share stories and ideas and wisdom and to share songs and dances and food and art, he said.

“When the people come together, it basically is an exchange of energy,” he said.

The powwow also provides a space for vendors to showcase and sell Native American food, crafts, jewelry, silver and turquoise works and elaborate beadwork, and for attendees to support those vendors who have traveled to Aspen for the powwow.

“For the eyes, it’s a feast,” said Deanne Vitrac-Kessler, the founder and executive director of the Aspen Indigenous Foundation. “And the fact that also you have … multiple generations together, when you have the grandparents and then the parents and the little kids and babies, and everybody dances and participates, so it’s very important to keep the native culture going.”

Buffalo Child said there may be nearly a dozen categories of dance at the powwow, including “fast and fancy,” “jingle dress” and “fancy shawl” dancing, hoop dancing, Northern-style and Southern-style dancing, dances for courtship and for celebrating life.

“A lot of the dancers got their songs from spiritual experiences, they go on a mountain, and they’re fasting, and they get a song that comes to them, and they will get instructions with that song, you know?” Buffalo Child said.

“The dancers are dancing to the rhythm of the singing in their body, to the rhythm of the singing in their feet, to the rhythm of the drumbeat, and it’s (an) expression of life, and it’s a story about life, and it’s a prayer about life,” he added.

Life is at the heart of the powwow — celebration of it, and preservation, too.

“There’s two types of native people today: There’s people that are traditional, and then there’s people that are lost, or (having an) identity crisis,” Buffalo Child said.

The powwow can be a way for those people who are lost to find their way, he said. The first powwow can “plant the seed” for participants to foster a deeper connection with their culture and heritage. The more they attend, the more the seeds grow; for some, this weekend’s powwow will be “the harvest,” he said.

“Powwow is special, you know. Powwow changes people’s lives,” Buffalo Child said. “There are people that were lost, and they went to powwow, they started changing their life, and then they got to ceremonies and they changed their life even more. It’s an identity wake-up call.”

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