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For the longest time I sat and watched him, a respected man whose accolades and puddle jumping abilities on the pow-wow and somewhat discussed. A chaos of tiny frenetic people and foot-dragging adults were raising dust all about his tent. With impeccable patience he continued his ritual of preening and applying the paint just so. I turned to look at my wife with some annoyance as she missed a strand on my hair. She, with customary patience, continued to humour my spoilt demand.
In the dance arbour a number of road weary drummers sizzled in the heat. After much throat clearing and spatting the ground, they started their repertoire. So began the day the troubles of metropolitan life left behind for the dust bowls of pow-wow arenas. The emergence of the post-atomic Indian shimmering in the sunlight had arrived.
This is the existence of a road warrior whose primary objective is getting to a pow-wow anywhere, anytime and by any means possible.
Among First Nation families, the preparation for a pilgrimage into pow-wow country is always a spontaneous affair. With finances barely secured and deciding what to do with grandma other than sticking her in the trunk, the modern family chases the road. The mode of transportation is based on faith, hope and a prayer that somehow the oil-burning gas guzzler will make it to its destination.
Along the way careful eyes strain the roads for porcupines disguised as roadkill. A porcupine so big and fine would most certainly add to the wardrobe of any accomplished dancer. Perhaps the feathers of a red tail hawk would consummate the outfit.
Upon arrival at the host community the question invariably asked is, "Where's the pow-wow?" The response is to follow the road until you come to a barely legible cardboard sign with arrows pointing to heaven knows where.
At the campsite, the family attempts to pitch the tent. With the critters fighting and grandma forgotten in the car, mom and dad blame each other for leaving the tent pegs at home. Around two a.m. an exhausted mom and dad tuck the critters into bed with grandma fast asleep in the car.
It is time to seek out those teenagers with their hormones on overdrive. Around the dance arbour amid the booths promising bacterial poisoning, loud whispers
In the morning the promise of a good powwow beckons as the sounds of preparation are heard throughout the camp. They hustle to register for the pow-wow and to get ready for grand entry. Old friends visit as the family puts on their outfits. Much shaking of hands occurs and humour is spread as watchful eyes look at belongings for possible gifts according to custom.
Meanwhile, the announcer calls all the dancers to the arbour for grand entry; some take heed. There is a nervous tension among the dancer tying last knots and taping old wounds on their outfits. They attempt last minute looks on car windows and practice smiles before striding forth to present themselves. Standing in line at grand entry, the habitual pawing of the ground and constant fanning creates a mood of anticipatory excitement in the audience.
Oh! How sweet it is when the first wails are heard and the dancers make a spectacular entrance into the arbour. Swirls of colour are indistinguishable as dancers display their finery before an appreciative audience. People in the audience are seen leaning over to friends as they point in the direction of an admired dancer. Dancers try to satisfy the audience with exaggerated moves and gestures while trying to be nonchalant with their own egos. The festival of dance moves faster and forever into the day as people celebrate the joys of being.
Every now and then a dancer comes along with a new idea or design that may or may not find acceptance with the people. Such individuals are predisposed to try things like tinfoil and battery powered lights. Some people disapprove of this intrusion of technology into their culture. Others admire the ingenuity and audacity. The style of dress among the dancers is a montage of past and present with everything in between. Somehow the notion of what we are is translated and reinterpreted to reflect the society we have become. Pow-wows are being replayed again and again in far-away places whose heritage to powwows is newer to them than Mickey Mouse ever was.
On the day after the powwow, mom and dad prepare for the journey home with last minute yelling and final warnings, they break camp. All that is left are the hungry remnants of lost individuals and rez dogs fighting over scraps. They prepare the last of their meagre fare of cowboy coffee and grease bannock, the critters discontent with their puffed wheat. Taking a moment, they observe in silent prayer a last look around and drive away. Once on the road they steer toward the brown haze in the distance and the promise of soft beds and milk for the puffed wheat.
Along the way, father proclaims as fact, "It was another good pow-wow." A short time later, "By the way, where is grandma!"