Turning the Page at the Page High School UNITY Contest Powwow
More than 100 dancers and close to 1,500 people attended the Page High School UNITY Contest Powwow in Page, Arizona on Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6. The annual event featured the usual southward migration of Utah dancers and paid respect to a beloved member of the pow wow community.
Longtime friend of the Page pow wow and local dancer Cecil American-Horse was honored with a song on Saturday night after his premature death in mid February due to complications with diabetes. More than a hundred people lined up at the powwow circle to shake hands and express their condolences to his family and close friends.
"At first it is hard to come to a pow wow," his daughter Lucy American-Horse said. "It was hard to come into the building and even watch grand entry and not see my dad there."
Due to his fight with diabetes, American-Horse suffered a fatal heart attack in Kaibeto while chopping wood for Lucy's daughter's Kinaaldá.
"It felt good and then sad to remember him," his widow, Cora, said. "A lot of people didn't know he passed away and they were really surprised and sad."
Respected northern traditional dancer from Kayenta, Jimmie Austin decided to forgo the larger pow wow in Flagstaff where his son was singing to attend this one with family and friends of American-Horse. Following the death Austin tried his best to console and give support to the family and was happy they finally seemed to be getting back to normal.
"I used to call Cecil my brother and he called me the same," Austin said. "This guy was a good teacher. He wasn't afraid and didn't hold back on anybody because he wanted to let people know where this all came from. I always tried to listen."
The popular and only pow wow in Page almost didn't happen this year because many longtime sponsors didn't support it but coordinator Shannon Secody was determined to see it through despite several setbacks.
"I was really surprised some businesses decided to pass this year especially since it's a fundraiser for a good cause," Secody said. "I was like 'okay, why now?'"
But Secody and the high school's UNITY Club chapter, a Native youth organization based in Oklahoma with chapters all over the tribal U.S. and Canada, pushes through anyway by securing donations from new sponsors and finding funding elsewhere.
"I probably have close to 30 active students in the club and they mainly did a lot of food concessions because a lot of our fund-raising comes from selling food," Secody said. "Some of them danced as well and were encouraged by the community because the people and local communities want to see a local powwow here."
Chilchimbito fancy shawl dancer Evelyna Gray and her excited children found exactly what they were looking for in the Page pow wow.
"This pow wow seems more down to earth and not the same dancers you usually see over and over," Gray said. "Plus there were a lot of dancers from way up in Utah you rarely see inside the reservation."
Gray also acknowledged that her children were probably more excited about going in the lake in Page on Sunday than anything else.
Two small figures really stuck-out on Saturday night amongst a sea of Native people and regalia in all the colors of the rainbow. Sabine Dederoy and Michele Arnal from France were vacationing in Antelope Canyon and were delighted to hear a pow wow was happening not far from there.
The pow wow was their first and although they have some forms of traditional dancing in France, it was unsurprisingly completely different from what they saw that night.
“The pow wow is marvelous, just gorgeous. We didn't understand a single word in any of the songs but it was still wonderful," Dederoy said.
Some pow wow goers from deep within the reservation received a rude reception while on their way to Page on Friday afternoon. Approximately 25 miles south of Page, northbound Highway 89 was closed due to the road buckling and practically severing in two. This caused major delays for many as they had to go back around Tuba City and through Kaibeto and Lechee.
Robert Yazzie had a difficult time choosing between the pow wows in Page and Flagstaff but was ultimately glad he chose the UNITY pow wow despite the long delay around the closed section of Highway 89.
"It took us forever to get here because the road was closed because of a geological event, whatever that is," Robert Yazzie of Chinle said. "And they don't know when they'll fix it so I guess I have to remember for next year."
In addition to the honor song for Cecil American-Horse, the contest pow wow also featured a drum and hand-drum contest and a teen girls fancy special sponsored by the Badonie family.
On Sunday morning, exhausted pow wow coordinator Secody had a late breakfast with her immediate family and extended one living close to Salt Lake City, Utah. She was happy to get a great deal of positive feedback from the dancers and members of the community the night before but this was Sunday and she had to rush off to Wal-Mart.
"I need to get some of that stuff that removes frybread grease from the floor," Secody said.