SHERIDAN — The third annual First People’s Powwow and Dance will return to the Historic Sheridan Inn Friday afternoon as hundreds of Native American dancers and drum teams in full regalia gather to perform traditional ceremonial dances.
In anticipation of the celebration, a powwow was held on the lawn of the Inn Wednesday with members of the Crow and Northern Arapahoe Nations offering cultural education to crowds of tourists and residents alike.
Sandra Ironcloud of the Northern Arapahoe Nation on the Wind River Reservation shared stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, with the permission of her elders.
Ironcloud is a teacher at the Wyoming Indian High School and she shared with the crowd that before she could take that position, or start hosting educational programs such as this, she had to request permission from her elders to speak in public of their ways. She said permission was given and begged forgiveness from any elders in the audience for any mistakes she may make in the retelling of their tales before beginning the program.
The event started with a grand entry as every dancer showcased their style to the drums and singing of the “Little Big Horn Victory Song.”
Ironcloud explained that the dances are more important to their culture than just entertainment or fun.
“This is part of who we are and how we express ourselves,” she said. “The circle is about healing. The outfits are reflective of ourselves and our families. A long time ago we had societies in our nations. Among many of the tribes, those societies are gone. Through the song and dance, this is part of retaining our language, our culture and our identity as Native American people, as indigenous people.”
Ironcloud said her people are referred to by a great many names but whether indigenous, Indian, Native American or the likes, it matters not to them.
“It doesn’t matter what you say is politically correct because we as a people know who we are,” she said. “We know that we are Northern Arapahoe. We know that we are Oglala Lakota. We don’t have to have politically correct terms because we know we are grounded in who we are as a people.”
The dances and storytelling continued with a women’s traditional dance showcasing two distinct styles.
Representing the Oglala Lakota tribe, Ironcloud’s daughter danced the Lakota stationary style while two younger dancers moved in a dance circle.
“This dance is very old and started as Lakota traditional dancers stood along the side when the men came in from a hunting party or other parties,” Ironcloud said of the Lakota stationary. “We honor our children as we come into this dance circle and we honor our lives because the women are the ones who carry on our way of life. Women are sacred in our culture because they are the givers of life.”
Dancing the Lakota style men’s traditional, Ironcloud’s husband moved opposite of the women, in a counter-clockwise circle along the outside, which Ironcloud said is symbolic of protecting the women.
The Ironcloud family is one of many families that is part of the Little Sun Drum and Dance Group. The 36 dancers have been performing at Cheyenne Frontier days for the last nine years and compete at rodeos and events in a variety of dances.
But Sandra Ironcloud said their story is just one of many.
“You have over 500 nations in the United States who have 500 creation stories, how and why stories, of how things came to be in this world today,” she said. “Every tribe has their own story of how these different dances evolved. Every tribe has their own story of how they came to be in this world, and we all respect each other’s viewpoints and stories because we are an oral tradition.”
Special attention was also paid to the outfits worn by each of the dancers. Every item has a story, a history and a meaning.
An Eagle’s bustle, a circular adornment made of feathers, sits on the backside of Pat Ironcloud reflective of the circle of life. Frayed and broken feathers are symbolic of conflicts he has encountered yet continued.
Top feathers called head roach feathers are reflective of becoming a warrior. Teeth attached to robes are signs of being a good hunter. Beads are gathered from different tribes. Geometric shapes, bright colors, earth tones, bells and even hairstyles are all a mark of history or how members define themselves as a tribe.
For one member of the Crow Nation, Taylor Realbird, a warrior’s vest was worn in lieu of the traditional dancing outfits. Realbird is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and he wears the vest made by his mother as a sign that he is a warrior and survivor of battle.
Sandra Ironcloud said the outfits of adult male dancers can weigh up to 15 pounds. Changing the outfit can change the dance altogether.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, young women added colorful shawls to their traditional dance robes and the Fancy Dance was born. An upbeat tempo dance with spinning movements and flaring braids, the women are said to be reflective of a butterfly coming out of its cocoon.
The stories and dances are as much rooted in tradition and history as they are evolving and modern. The generations of dancers spanned from grandfathers to 2-year-old Jericho Bullweasel who danced alongside the elders.
The stories and dance will return today at 3 p.m. and culminate in the grand celebration Friday at the Historic Sheridan Inn.