Courtesy Jack and Jackie McNeel
David Browneagle at the Julyamsh Powwow

Julyamsh Powwow Honors the Horse

Jack McNeel
September 22, 2013

For 18 years, Cliff SiJohn introduced the horse parade at every Julyamsh, a powwow that honors the horse or “the four leggeds.” But this year, it was different. This year’s Julyamsh honored and recognized SiJohn, who walked on last December.

“He was a storyteller,” said David Browneagle. “He was also the keeper of our stories. He told of our histories. He made us all understand the importance of the four-leggeds, the spirit of the horse, our brother the horse.”

SiJohn always told of the Indian War battle with the U.S. Army in 1858 where, just three miles from the powwow grounds, about 800 Indian horses were shot in a place that was once called Horse Slaughter Camp. “It was to take away the power and strength of the Coeur d’Alenes and Spokanes,” Blackeagle said. “This is one of the reasons we want to remember the horse.”

Ike BlackWolf, Yakama-Warm Springs, was riding a 29 year-old Appaloosa named Dr. Spots around the dance arena as Browneagle retold stories of the Indian War battles. Black Wolf has ridden in this powwow parade for many years and wanted to return this year in honor of SiJohn. Other riders from several tribes also rode, circling the dance arena as Browneagle told the history of the four-leggeds.

The Julyamsh art auction was held on Saturday evening. Collectors had the chance to bid on pieces submitted by artists, many of whom were present with displays of their work.  It was an opportunity to pay tribute to George Flett, arguably the best-known Plateau artist, who was heavily involved with Julyamsh for many years. His death early this spring changed the tone of the auction, as had the death of SiJohn. Everyone seemed a bit more solemn.  

Julyamsh is advertised as the largest outdoor powwow in the northwest. Dancers, drummers and vendors from throughout the northwest, the plains, the southwest and Canada gather in Idaho annually. Total attendance was predicted in the range of 30,000.

Roughly 500 dancers entered the powwow contests with $175,000 in prize money at stake. There were 26 dance categories, plus drum group, hand drum, and horse parade entrants.

Excitement built up Saturday evening as a plane circled above the dance arena and Coeur d’Alene tribal member Dusty Hanks parachuted into the arena carrying a large American flag.  Coming from the ‘heavens’, Hanks jump seemed particularly symbolic of SiJohn and Fleet, the two missing spirits at this year’s Julyamsh.