It was a warm summer afternoon, when the family and I went to the local county fair. An event that had been anticipated upon by all members of the family for the various events and opportunities to meet up with friends and family. For the mother, the center of focus was the her love of horses, and western regalia drew her to seek out the stadium where friends were holding seats for us. For the father, it was a focus on taking his children on the various rides or observing them as they rode the various carnival rides whose flashing lights dazzled as the sun set and the nighttime took over.
Having attended many Powwows of the native variety, as well as taking a course at Fresno City College wherein we studied powwows extensively in a Native American Art course taught by a Native American instructor who herself sponsored and headed powwows for her people. I can honestly make comparisons between the two events from an audience perspective.
I decided to observe the beginnings of the rodeo and watched the youth barrel racing competition where a majority of the riders where preteens astride miniature horses. It was exciting to watch the dexterity with which these young ones guided their horses on the course. The announcer’s voice echoing through the stadium urging on the riders and the crowd with statistics and details of which honored the current participant. Having attended many powwows in my lifetime, I was reminded of the MC of the dancers at an Native Powwow whose job is to announce the style, the people, and entertain and inform the audience with statistics, anecdotes and jokes. I have also had the honor of working with a mother whose children both participated in barrel racing with their miniature horse named Maverick in the state of Ohio. As a result, I did admire the courage and training that those children had put into their costume, their handling of their horses and the bravery to race in front of a full stadium of strangers. The amount of time spent with family, trainers and their horses can be paralleled with the amount of time a dancer or performer at a Powwow must take to hone their skills in preparation for the event. The care and choice that one makes as to what they will wear from the riders perspective often includes added features and embellishments sewn by their mothers or themselves to make their outerwear truly a unique design. The amount of magic and energy that is put into their regalia (for lack of a better term) includes hand stitching and prayers of encouragement of safety and love and courage to perform a risky tasks such as barrel racing under 18.0 seconds.
While at the Coos County fair held in Myrtle Point in Oregon in July, I had the opportunity to walk round the exhibit halls during the time of the rodeo. Thus allowing me access and privacy to slowly view and admire the talent and effort put into the various arts, photography, culinary, and textile projects on display. I felt that I could view with a discerning eye as I have extensive background in museum curation and have visited over 100 museums and such exhibits over my lifetime. And as I am writing for a Native American newspaper, I also will call my artistic knowledge derived from courses taken in Native American studies and art taught by Native Instructors. One of whom, I may mention is the late Roy Cook, who taught at San Diego Mesa College. I have learned from Native artists that each has elements that they chose to work into their art the signifies their native roots and gives honor to spirit and the world within which we live.
As I viewed the photographs, the images of animals in various natural settings and the hues, and chroma which stimulated my senses I sought names I might recognize. A boy was walking behind me in the gallery showing his grandparents the awards he had received from his past year’s collection of animals from domestic cats, to hummingbirds hovering over a leaf. It was in examining the placards that accompanied that I realized I did not see native names. I wondered at this as I continued through the other exhibits making a game out of trying to find even a hispanic name and to my chagrin did not see any. It was then that I decided to consider this event as a white man’s powwow. It was an opportunity for people to submit their arts, their crafts, their food items and produce they had grown to be viewed and judged by their peers and awarded, in a very public manner in an effort to introduce the public to their lifeways, and creativity which defines their familial traditions and who they are in their own lives. The exact definition of a Powwow presented in a Native American Arts studies course I had taken in my undergraduate program.
An endearing attribute of county and even state fairs are the focus on agriculture and agribusiness as themes and this county fair was no exception, the theme of Country scenes and Children’s dreams enabled more of a focus on young talent. As with this of course, I sought any native themes and did not see any booths or exhibits with elements that may indicate Native Pride. The closing thought on this White Man’s Powwow is, as the banners and programs indicate it was sponsored in part by the Three Rivers Casino of Coos Bay which is owned by the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Coquille, Suislaw Indians. One wonders why there wasn’t more Native American submissions to the exhibit halls so they could share their art with the attendees of this fair.