BY MADISON WILKINSON
This month, the Denver March Powwow returns to the city for its 47th year. Since its start in 1984, the March Powwow at the Denver Coliseum is one of the largest events of its kind in the country. The event celebrates the heritage of American Indians and is packed with singing, dancing, storytelling, food, and art. The three-day event spanning March 17th to the 19th, will feature more than 1,500 dancers from close to 100 tribes across 38 states as well as three Canadian Provinces.
For those unfamiliar, the modern-day powwow represents a time for Native people to come together and honor the passing down of their cultures. The history leading up to the modern-day powwow begins with the tribes that inhabited the Great Plains, reaching from the southern prairies of Canada all the way to the lower plains of Texas. During the 19th Century, a period called the Removal Era, where native people were aggressively pushed off their land by colonists and onto reservations under the Indian removal Act of 1830. Multiple tribes were forced to share the same land, despite being separate and unique cultural entities. The Indian Removal Act and the subsequent push for Indian assimilation, tore families and tribes apart and outlawed native language, religion, songs, and dances, seeking to eliminate Native culture all together.
As a form of survival, tribes formed intertribal alliances. These alliances allowed for tribe-specific songs, dances, and ceremonies to be exchanged together to honor each tribe’s unique history. These alliances and the sharing of tribe-specific cultural moments are the historical foundations for the intertribal powwows of today. Powwows commemorate historical and contemporary events through song, dance, and stories and are deeply important vessels for Native dance, tradition, prayer, and cultural preservation.
The Denver March Powwow is Colorado’s largest spring powwow and is internationally known for drawing in the largest numbers of Native drum groups. Many Native people were drawn to Denver through a 50’s era Bureau of Indian Affairs employment assistance program. As the native population grew, the Denver Indian Center decided to host its own powwow and the event only continues to grow year-after-year.
Drum, dance, and art are really the backbone of the Powwow. Large, intertribal powwows like Denver’s requires synchronized drumming and singing from groups. Each session of the Denver Powwow begins with the colorful and stirring Grand Entry. It kicks off with the HeartBeat drum group singing the committee’s song, “A Living Hoop,” before each nation and tribe raises their flags. There are two grand entries on Friday as well as Saturday and one occurring on Sunday.
The spirit of the powwow is inclusive, and attendees are able to participate in the Intertribal Dance, featuring all the different styles of Powwow dances as well as all the different generations dancing together. During these dances, men and women of all ages, dancing all styles, join together on the floor to the beating of drums in an unforgettable, swirling sight of color.
In addition to dance, the Denver Powwow also gives space for storytellers to share legends and legacies of America’s indigenous people. There are also 170 booths selling a variety of artisan products like jewelry, blankets, pottery, and beadwork showcasing the work of some of the nation’s most skilled, native craftsmen.
This historic, vibrant event welcomes the city of Denver to a glimpse of indigenous culture, giving a stage to celebrate and learn from the cultures whose land was stolen from them, the same land we stand on today.
Tickets can be purchased online as well as at the door and are on sale now. Children aged 6 and under are able to attend for free.