Grand Entry at the 32nd Wa:k Pow Wow

All the Fun and Fancy Footwork at the 32nd Tohono O’odham Wa:k Pow Wow

Lee Allen

The long line of vehicles that stirs up dust clouds on the way to Mission San Xavier del Bac attest to the popularity of the Tohono O’odham tribes 32nd Annual Wa:k Pow Wow, held last weekend near Tucson. The two-day event was entertaining and educational.

“While dancers come here to socialize and compete, our pow wow is a learning experience for non-Natives to find out a bit more about who we are as a people,” Philbert Bailey, the event director, told ICTMN. “The pow wow provides visitors a glimpse of our culture as we share the traditions of our San Xavier district.

“We don’t care how many attend, just as long as they all have fun,” Bailey said.

The event name, Wa:k, displays a certain amount of irony. It translates to ‘where the water comes out of the ground’, but very little of the precious liquid exists today in this part of the Sonoran Desert, where Tohono villages once survived on the then-running waters of the Santa Cruz River.

Despite the traffic congestion and the weather fluctuations (nearly 80 degrees one day, 40 mile-per-hour winds the next), the pow wow fun began with the sounds of Waila music. Waila (from the Spanish word baile or dance) is a genre of music unto itself; with polkas and two-steps belted out on guitars, drums, an accordion and a cow bell.

“It’s non-stop pageantry, fun, and dance competition,” says Bailey of the weekend-long gathering that begins with a cultural dance by the Wa:k T-ab basket dancers and leads into a Grand Entry procession with O’odham tribal officials and visiting royalty from different nations. “We get the crowd in the mood with tiny tot dancing, youngsters who can barely walk up to age 5, that’s always an audience favorite.


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