Drum beats honor traditions old and new
Sedillo Park was filled on Mother’s Day weekend with a spectacle of color and sound as American Indian men, women and children from all over the Southwest donned traditional costumes to dance, sing and compete in the 10th annual Mother’s Day Pow Wow.
“Pow wows are weekly events throughout the United States,” said emcee Bruce Klinekole. “They’re a gathering of friends and relatives who come together like a big family reunion to share happiness and good times.”
Klinkole, who is Mescalero, Comanche and Kiowa Apache, has participated in the Mother’s Day Pow Wow many times over the past 10 years, as Head Man dancer, Head Gourd dancer and arena director. This year he served as master of ceremonies, and set the pace and tone of the two-day event. Klinekole told stories and jokes, announced the drums, dances and contests, and acted as a bridge between the participants and the hundreds of spectators who came to watch, drawn by the bright costumes and the sound of the drums.
The drum is the heartbeat of the pow wow.
A drum is a group of men who sit around a single instrument, usually a little more than 2 feet in diameter and stretched tightly with rawhide. Often there are several women in a drum, although by tradition they are not seated at it but stand outside the circle of drummers and provide vocal accompaniment.
This year’s host drums were Southern Drum Yellow Bird from Peña Blanca, with lead singer Lyle Tso, and Northern Drum Wild Boyz, from Santo Domingo Pueblo, with lead singer Dewayne Martin.
The host drums are responsible for providing the flag songs, memorial songs, intertribal songs and songs for particular traditional dance styles.
“They have to be versatile,” explained Klinekole. “They know what needs to be sung for specialty dances and the different contests.”
Five other drums participated this year; Smoke Stack, Southern Red, Sacred Wheel, Sacred Path and Little Rez Boys. The Little Rez Boyz are just what their name implies, a group of small boys, not yet teenagers, who are already well versed in the traditional songs of the pow wow.
“It’s good that they’re here, learning and practicing the traditions,” said Bruce Klinekole Jr., son of the emcee.
Klinekole Jr.’s role in the pow wow was to bring in the Eagle Staff along with the color guard at the head of the “Flag and Feathers” Grand Entry and parade.
“The Eagle Staff is like the Native American flag,” he explained. “It represents the Native American people as a whole.”
Honoring the flag, both the Native American flag and the flag of the United States, is an integral part of a pow wow. The color guard for the event this year was performed by the Santo Domingo Veterans group from Santo Domingo Pueblo.
On Saturday, a special tribute was given to honor the memory of Sgt. Clifton Yazzie, a New Mexico soldier killed in Iraq, in 2006, by an improvised explosive device.
Throughout the weekend, other traditions were invoked to pay tribute to fallen warriors.
“The Gourd Dance is done to honor veterans and warriors from a long time ago,” explained Klinekole, Sr. “It’s a social dance with no ceremonial significance, but there are protocols. The men dance inside the arena and the women dance outside the inner circle of men.”
Typically, Klinekole explained, the Gourd Dance is followed by the Buffalo Dance song which represents “paying homage to the animal that sustained us in life many years ago.”
During the weekend, special homage was also paid to mothers, with speeches and prayers and a call to remember and honor the women — the mothers, sisters and aunts, both living and departed — who nurtured us, protected us, and in many cases fought their own battles with cancer.
Other forms of tribute were paid at intervals throughout the two days as the Head Dancers took turns in ceremonial gift giving.
“It’s an honor to be chosen for a Head position,” Klinkole explained. “The one who is honored gives gifts back, of food and blankets.”
Sharing food is another honored tradition, with people preparing meals and offering plates and bowls to friends and strangers alike.
“Even though we come from all different places, when we are here at the pow wow, we are brother and sister,” Klinekole said. “Native American, anglo, Hispanic, we are all family. When you are here, you are my sister.”
Even among family, there is etiquette that must be observed. Although it’s almost irresistible to photograph the fantastically colored and ornamented costumes, it is polite to ask first for permission to take a picture. Partly, at least, this has to do with a certain historical sensitivity about exploitation.
“People sometimes take pictures and use them for commercial purposes,” Klinekole said. “A picture was taken of me once, and was being sold as a postcard all over the country, and I only found out about it later. Once, a picture of me appeared in a magazine, and I saw that they had described me as being from a pueblo somewhere, and it was wrong, it wasn’t where I’m from or who I am. It’s a matter of respect.”
Although some people declined to have their photograph taken when asked, many were willing to pose and explain something about their traditional dress and its history. There’s one exception to the picture taking rule, however.
“During the Intertribal Dance it’s ok,” said Head Judge Alfreda Estevan from Acoma. “You can take pictures then.”
The Head Judge is responsible for the contests, of which there are many.
The categories include every thing from Tiny Tots to Golden Age, with special contests for specialty dances like Grass Dance and Fancy Dance, each with its own form and style of dress. Results of the contests were not available at Chieftain press time.
Earl Sherman, a Diné Ute from Twin Lakes, is a Northern Traditional Contemporary dancer. Each piece of his costume is painstakingly made by hand, from the eagle feather fan and bustle to the bone bead breastplate and choker, to the porcupine roach (or headpiece) made from porcupine quills and dyed deer hair, with beaded leather work and ermine fur.
“It took eight or nine months to make this,” Sherman said.
Sherman’s son and grandsons also take part in pow wows, traveling within a 200 or so mile radius almost every weekend during the school year and going as far as the East and West coasts during the summer months.
Part of the costume his son was wearing, Sherman had made for him when he was a boy, and it had been added to and lengthened over the years as he grew.
“I could have made him something new, but he prefers to have this one, that I made him as a boy,” Sherman said.
The organizer for the Mother’s day Pow Wow in Socorro is Donna Monette, who works tirelessly throughout the year to invite dancers, singers and vendors, advertise the event, and arrange lodging for all the many visitors the pow wow brings to Socorro.
Many of the people Monette invites have been coming since the first Mother’s Day Pow Wow in 2000, but many this year were first-timers.
“I’ve only been coming for a few years, but I really like to come here,” said one vendor from Kewa. “The atmosphere is very friendly. Everything about this pow wow is really nice, except this year, the wind is very strong.”
This year, Monette was able to draw singers and dancers from as far away as North Dakota and Utah, and from Acoma, Kewa and Picuris Pueblos. The 20 or so vendors also came from all parts, bringing pottery, jewelry, bead work and other items to sell from all different native traditions. At least 10 food vendors offered everything from mutton stew and fresh roasted corn to frybread and Navajo tacos.
After a few days of rest, Monette will think about planning next year’s pow wow for Socorro.
Contact Suzanne Barteau