Rim country residents and visitors can experience the color and excitement of a grand Native American tradition at the second annual Tonto Apache Tribal Pow Wow, a component of Tonto Apache Tribal Recognition Days taking place this weekend in and around the Mazatzal Casino and Payson Event Center.
This year, the pow wow will be held in an 8,000-square-foot tent in the large area east of the casino.
"Last year we had it at the Payson Event Center, and the big drawback was that it was hot," Mark Kaplan, casino marketing director, said.
"This year people will be able to enjoy the dancers in comfort."
Another big change is cost. Last year the tribe charged a $2 admission fee. This year, admission is free with a non-perishable food item or laundry item, which will be donated to local charities.
Many tribes around the country now hold pow wows, a contemporary link to the past that features singing, dancing, drumming, colorful regalia and Native American food, arts and crafts. While outsiders consider them entertainment, pow wows are a spiritual legacy for Native American families, a time to reflect on traditions and honor the past.
The term "pow wow" is an adaptation of the Algonquin word "pau wau," and the dances that have become featured events were once called Grass Dances and were held by members of elite warrior societies.
As Native Americans began to live on reservations, nonsurvival activities like dancing became more important, gradually evolving into contest dancing where dancers compete for cash prizes. At today's pow wows, contest categories are based on dance styles and age groups, and dancers are judged on their regalia as well as their dancing abilities.
The dance arena, called an Arbor, is blessed before the pow wow begins and is considered sacred ground for the duration of the celebration. Each dance session begins with a procession of dancers known as the grand entry, and a master of ceremonies keeps the pow wow running smoothly while explaining to spectators what is taking place.
The Tonto Apache event features multiple tribes with dancers from around the country competing for close to $20,000 in prize money. Grand entries are scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m., with gourd dancing commencing one hour before each grand entry.
Gourd dancers carry gourd rattles and feather fans and are attired in red and blue robes, beaded and fringed sashes, and mescal bead bandoliers.
In addition to dance competitions in golden age, adult age, teen, junior and tiny tots categories, a drum contest will be featured at the Tonto Apache Tribal Pow Wow. Dances included within the categories include the following:
Grass dance: dancers wear yokes, breech cloths and either a bandanna or a porcupine headdress.
Northern traditional: represents a warrior scouting before a battle. Dancers wear a headpiece of eagle feathers, a bone hair pipe choker and breastplate, and carry a dance staff and fan made from the wing of an eagle.
Southern straight: dancers are elaborately attired in an otter skin trailer decorated with mirrors and beadwork or ribbon work, bone hair pipe, bead bandoliers, silver choker, and beaded belt.
Jingle dress: a cotton or taffeta dress with "jingles" made of snuff can lids attached. They make a distinctive sound which represents waves or thunder to scare away evil spirits.
Fancy shawl: most important is the shawl, worn over the shoulders and held out as the dancer steps and twirls. The legend behind the dance is of a butterfly who lost her mate in battle and went into a cocoon until she could begin life anew.