Wyoming’s Largest Powwow: Stories From Eastern Shoshone Days
The 55th annual Eastern Shoshone Indian Days concluded this weekend, wrapping up three days of dance contests, drumming and singing. The celebration, which is the biggest powwow in Wyoming, is a defining event for the Eastern Shoshone, and one of the largest reservation-based powwows in North America.
Thousands of attendees came from near and far to take part in the dancing, music, and food, where they mingled with old friends and made new ones. Like all powwows, the event is intended to be fun, but it also takes on the serious role of uplifting the hearts of the Eastern Shoshone and all their visitors. Throughout the day, organizers and announcers of the event spoke to the healing power of the powwow.
“That’s why we put so much time and effort into it,” said George Abeyta, powwow coordinator and a member of the elected Eastern Shoshone Entertainment Council. “We have people who are sick, who are sad and mourning and who are confused. And just for that one moment we hope to uplift and inspire them and strengthen them, and I think we did that.”
The event went off smoothly and professionally. Dancers found green grass to dance on. Vendors had plenty of electricity and water. Onlookers had shade over their heads and good places to camp. The arena directors and the emcees and drummers all worked together to keep Sunday’s event moving for more than 10 hours straight, wrapping up after midnight.
“We invested thousands of hours to build that celebration to what it is today,” Abeyta said.
At the powwow grounds
The salty smell of french fries wafted through the air on the final morning of the powwow before the dancing started. Drum songs and Indian Elvis played over the loudspeakers of the dance arbor, mixing with rap music that thumped from a car rolling through the campground. People stood at tailgates, putting on regalia for the parade. Many draped colorful blankets over their vehicles.
The American Legion Color Guard kicked off the parade by leading a procession into the dance arbor. Gilbert Jarvis carried in the eagle staff. He’s responsible for maintaining the powwow grounds and keeping the grass green. Following behind were the other members of the guard, who said they had represented the Eastern Shoshone during the inaugural parades for George Bush in 2005 and Barack Obama in 2009.
As the parade ended, the crowd moved over to Rocky Mountain Hall for a feast put on by the powwow committee. Eastern Shoshone elder Star Weed, Sr., opened the meal with a prayer for safe travels, asking for a blessing over the food and the water. He prayed in Shoshone and in English.
About 200 people lined up in the gymnasium to eat, with out-of-state guests asked to eat first. Those serving food to the crowd included volunteers and Rhyia JoyHeart-RunsMedicine, the recently elected Eastern Shoshone Indian Days Princess, who comes from Denver, Colorado.
“I do it for my people, for the elders, to see those faces smiling,” JoyHeart-RunsMedicine said. “I do it for my relatives.”
Sitting at one of the long tables at the feast was Edmund Nevaquaya, a Comanche from the town of Apache, Oklahoma, who was one of this year’s powwow emcees. He’s a long-time powwow emcee, and said he first attended Eastern Shoshone Days in the early 1980s.
Nevaquaya explained that the Comanche and the Eastern Shoshone share a language. At one time they were part of the same people, before the Comanche migrated out onto the southern Great Plains. He said his part of Indian Country also has connections to the Wind River Reservation because of the Fort Sill Indian School, a federal boarding school that recruited Eastern Shoshone students until it closed in 1980.
Further down the table sat Joanna Tillman and John Timbana, who were visiting and looking over some of Timbana’s beadwork. Timbana was raised partly on the Fort Hall reservation, and partly with Eastern Shoshone relatives in Fort Washakie. He said he learned beading from his family and in school. He now lives in Nevada, and makes moccasins as a sideline. They sell for $450 a pair, and he has more orders than he can keep up with.
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