Having a 'good time'

After 42 years Diné College powwow still going strong

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

TSAILE, Ariz., May 19, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Diego James Robles)

TOP: Many Farms, Ariz., grass dancer Cordell Defoe applies face paint moments before the grand entry at the 42nd Annual Diné College Powwow on Saturday in Tsaile, Ariz.
SECOND FROM TOP: Fancy shawl dancer Sage Jack, 17, performs during the 42nd Annual Diné College Powwow on Saturday in Tsaile, Ariz.
THIRD FROM TOP: Grass dancer Cordell Defoe dances during the 42nd Annual Diné College Powwow on Saturday in Tsaile, Ariz.


ongs and dance steps were still strong at Diné College's Tsaile campus this past weekend despite only having four drums and a handful of dance contestants at the 42nd Annual Dine College Powwow.

Half the size it was 10 years ago, the college's powwow still attracted around 300 people from all over, some coming from as far as northern Montana.

Many attributed the small attendance to the number of powwows happening that weekend, particularly pointing out the San Juan College Contest Powwow in Farmington, whose northern host drum was six-time Grammy nominee Northern Cree.

"Northern Cree is a well-known, esteemed drum group in the powwow circuit," said a spectator. "It wouldn't surprise me if everybody was over there."

Diné College's contests took place Friday and Saturday, resulting in no ties and cash prizes going to first through third place winners.

"All money collected at the door is divided among the winners," said Walter Jensen, the powwow's coordinator and director of student programs.

The powwow began as a social gathering in 1969 at the college's former main campus in Many Farms, Ariz.

Contests were added in 1973, making the powwow one of the first in the area to introduce them, behind Fort Lewis College's Hozhoni Days powwow, which began in 1955.

"The powwow is 13 years older than the Gathering of Nations and 17 years older than the ASU powwow," said Jensen, referring to the Arizona State University event taking place this weekend in Tempe, Ariz.

The host southern drum was Buc Wild from Chinle. Lead singer JaRon Tso said the group was humbled and honored to be chosen for the role.

"This is our first year at Diné College," Tso said. "It was a really good powwow. The gourd dance was awesome, that is why we're mainly here. We had a good time."

Buc Wild is newer group, but coming up fast, having been invited to be host southern drum at the ASU powwow and the Treaty Days Powwow scheduled in early June in Window Rock.

Coming all the way from Birch Creek, Mont., host northern drum Rocky Mountain Renegades shared similar views about the powwow, together with insight on their name.

"Our name is actually what was given to the Blackfeet by the U.S. Calvary because they were hard to keep up with," said lead singer Jay Dusty.

The group drove 24 hours to reach Tsaile after being contacted by a student from the college.

"We're just humbled to be asked," Dusty said. "We're here to teach the children about the importance of singing and to learn from our elderly. We're all about education."

The Horses of Window Rock and RHR of Sunrise, Ariz., completed the quartet of drum groups at the powwow.

As the dancers filled the arena and drum groups filled the ears of attendees, food stands lined the walls and spread outside the gym to fill everyone's stomach.

"We allow any Diné College student organizations to come in and fund-raise for themselves," Jensen explained.

For the dancers, the powwow arena was just another place they called home.

"I'm really liking it and I'm pretty excited," said head man dancer Matthew Dearly, 24.

Dearly, a student at Diné College's Shiprock campus has been a grass dancer since he was 6 years old.

"Basically, I'm here to lead the other dancers and to support them," he said, explaining his role as head dancer. "I dance during all the intertribal songs and during the grass dance contests."

Dearly, who is Tódích'íi'nii, has a close personal connection to the powwow, which the announcer shared with the audience during his special, a time when he shows his appreciation to the audience by dancing and giving out gifts.

When he was 20, the announcer said, his regalia was lost in a fire and following that he fell on hard times, struggling with the direction of his life and getting into trouble.

Then his grandmother, Emma Nolan of Shiprock, took him to South Dakota to their Oglala family, who were able to get Dearly back into the circle.

"I'm just thankful to everyone and to Diné College for asking me to be head man," said Dearly. "There was no convincing me when they asked, I was willing to do it."

Other head dancers included head gourd dancer Herman Farley of Red Mesa, Ariz.; head lady dancer Miss Diné College 2011-12, Valentina Blackhorse of Kayenta, Ariz.; and Kenneth Joe of Montezuma Creek, Utah, emceed the powwow.