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kids dancing at national powwow Two young dancers participating in the Kids Day event at National Powwow XV in Danville, Indiana. (Photo: Marchelle Mosley)

A Celebration of Native American Heritage

National Powow keeps American Indian culture alive

By Grace Ybarra | November 16 , 2011

American Indian powwows take place throughout the year in different cities across the United States. Historically, powwows were held in celebration of a cure to a disease or a success in a hunt. Today, powwows are held to keep American Indian culture alive.

The National Powwow started in 1969 and happens every three years in cities across the United States. This year, National Powwow XV was held in Danville, Indiana, on July 6-9 at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds. People from all over the nation came to Danville for the four-day powwow. Some even came from across the Atlantic Ocean.

The third day of the powwow was Kids Day. At the kids powwow, many different American Indian nations were in attendance, such as Sioux, Cherokee, Sac Fox, Comanche, Navajo, Shawnee, Delaware, and Apache.

At a powwow, there are American Indian dances that feature many different styles of dancing and dancers like Grass Dancers, Fancy Dancers, Shawl Dancers, and Jingle Dancers. The more common dances are the Men's Fancy Dance and the Women's Shawl Dance. The Men's Fancy Dance features bright colors and fast footwork with a strong emphasis on originality. The Women's Shawl Dance uses a shawl worn over the shoulders and the dancer twirls and steps lightly resembling a butterfly.

On Kids Day, many children came together in the center of the arena in their moccasins and danced for the public. Their Tiny Tots dance featured young children dancing, wiggling, and jumping along to the beat of the drum.

The kids powwow was led by the "Head Little Boy" and "Head Little Girl" dancers Tyler Thurman and Maleaha Brings Plenty. Maleaha and Tyler are both 9 years old and have been dancing since they started walking. Maleaha lives in Cherokee, North Carolina. Tyler lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Tyler said that he attends numerous powwows each year in cities such as Washington D.C. and Oklahoma City. Both children enjoy coming to powwows to have fun and just dance.

"I was at Frank Liske [North Carolina Powwow] two years ago and the person in charge asked me if I'd be the head dancer for the National Powwow, because he liked my style of dancing," said Head Little Girl and kid shawl dancer Maleaha Brings Plenty.

"There's an exhibition called ‘tiny tots' where the kids just go out there and have fun dancing," said fancy dancer, Tyler Thurman.

Many people camped out at the powwow in their tipis. One person can put up a tipi in about 30 minutes and can take one down in the same amount of time. Inside of most tipis were beds covered in animal hide blankets and Native American regalia hung from the walls. Rain isn't much of a problem for people camping out in tipis. Under the hole in a tipi there is normally a fire. When a little rain trickles down, it causes the flame to grow bigger and allow less rain inside the tipi.

Seven-year-old Marcus Castoreno from Atlanta, Georgia, was a grass dancer in the Tiny Tots dance. A grass dancer moves in a way similar to the image of grass swaying in the wind. At the powwow, he camped out with his grandfather in a tipi. He slept on buffalo hide, and each night he insisted his grandfather tell him a story each night.

Marcus lives with his grandfather, who he calls Dad, all summer and enjoys attending powwows with him. He even taught himself how to play an American Indian flute.

"I enjoy spending time with my Dad and just having fun at powwows," said Marcus.

The powwow also had many merchants who sold authentic American Indian items at their stands. A person can buy anything from an American Indian flute to an arrowhead. Shawls, hand drums, and necklaces were also for sale.

Everything at a powwow helps keep the American Indian culture alive.

American Indian Heritage Month

For more Kid Reporter coverage of the annual celebration of America's native heritage, check out the American Indian Heritage Month Special Report.

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