I recently had the luxury of spending my lunch break wandering up and down the halls of Carson City’s Nevada State Museum. No matter how many times I frequent this fascinating place, there always seems to be something new or different that pops out at me each time. Somehow you can’t manage to take all of it in…which is a good thing, in my eyes. Aside from getting away from my desk for a bit, I was hoping to delve deep into some Native American history Nevada has so much of. The new wing is fantastically executed with thoughtful, yet informative displays. A red, glaring exhibit I could no longer ignore captivated me: The Stewart Indian School’s letter jacket and cheerleading uniforms, along with vintage photos curved around the corner. I was headed to a Pow Wow event to be held on these grounds in just a few short days, and could feel myself getting lost in the photos that decorated the museum walls. I had been anxiously awaiting this impending opportunity, where I would have the chance to witness an authentic Pow-Wow with my own two eyes.
Flash forward to the Father’s Day Pow-Wow. Walking in, I must admit that I had a case of the “I’s”: I was highly intrigued and very intimidated. In my opinion, The Stewart Indian School has some disappointing history behind it, so naturally, I was nervous to be at the site [considering some questionable events went down here], and definitely very aware of the fact that I was going to be testing the waters on the cultural end of the spectrum. It was a fragile environment and being respectful was very important to me. This history and culture is such a huge facet of Nevada’s identity; I was an open book and so ready to learn, learn learn. Truly having no idea what I was headed into, my jaw about hit the floor when I entered Stewart Indian School grounds: thousands of people had posted up to enjoy Indian Tacos, perfectly executed crafts and goods, and live music and dancing. It was absolutely incredible; I was actually speechless for once in my life…
After looping around the grounds to get a general overview of the situation, the captivating aroma of fry bed paralyzed me. That’s right, the Indian Tacos had me hooked, big time. What’s an Indian Taco you ask? Yeah, I had no idea either. And do you eat it like a regular taco? Don’t know, don’t care. It smelled amazing, and I had made up my mind that I was going to eat it, whatever it was. As I worked my way up to the front of a seemingly eternal line, I soon realized why it was 20 people deep: the owners were rolling out the dough and frying the bread live in action! My one ‘regular’ Indian Taco ended up being one extra ginormous taco…I definitely got my eight dollars worth to say the least. The cheesy, bready goodness hypnotized me and set the tone for the rest of the night. I was relaxed and ready to get a solid dose of retail therapy on.
You must understand that I am not normally a sucker for crafts (I actually really dislike craft fairs, maybe a result of my mother dragging me though endless hours of booths as a child), but wandering the bevy of these goods turned me into a craft-crazed maniac. There was a heartfelt authenticity about them. From perfectly tooled leather bracelets and belts, to intricately crafted wind catchers and impeccably smelted jewelry, I felt this need to find something to take home with me. Ask and you shall receive: I locked down some amazing hand-beaded earrings, crafted by a Native American family who went into business for themselves. Definitely something you could only get at a certain time and place…great success! Feeling extraordinarily satisfied, I hauled my full belly and fancy ears over to the bleachers and secured a seat in the to scope out the dance competition.
My silly food and craft coma quickly became an afterthought as Native American men, women and children dressed in full regalia made their way into the area, presenting flags and singing what many referred to as their national anthem. This was different than other public events or shows I have attended…there are no ifs, ands or buts about it: these people have a presence and undoubtedly commanded the crowd. Live drumming and signing flooded the arena while hundreds of dancers navigated their way back and forth across the grass. I was completely enchanted and extremely, extremely moved.
The steadiness of the drum and method of their movement gently rocked me into a trance until a piece of vivid regalia would catch my eye and pull things back into focus. I craved more; I wanted so badly to understand hundreds of years of ideology and rituals, but the magical thing about it was I didn’t have to in order to appreciate it. No matter the language barrier or cultural hurdles we attempt to overcome, the fact of the matter is the human race holds the power to interpret song and dance. We have the ability to understand when something is cheerful or filled with sorrow, no matter the language, and to me, that was what was sacred about the Pow Wow. It was powerful stuff.
Having the delight of experiencing this first hand was unparalleled… It had been a long, long time since I had a spoonful of culture like that. To me, it was almost like attending a service at someone else’s church. It’s fun to partake in the commercialized end of things, but you must remember to remain aware of your surroundings, behaving appropriately and respectfully. It was a humbling, emotional and very rewarding experience. If you ever have the opportunity to experience something like this first hand, take it and run with it…something truly amazing that is right in our backyard.