‘Healing beats of the drum’: Central Agency Fair Powwow returns after 3 years
The Gorman fairgrounds in Chinle was filled with canopies and umbrellas as powwow dancers were getting ready for the long day of competition.
The powwow was finally back after COVID-19 caused the fair’s cancellation in 2020. The fair went virtual last year.
After grand entry, 2021-22 Miss Navajo Nation Niagara Rockbridge welcomed the dancers and attendees.
“It’s good to be back in the powwow circle, to feel the healing beats of the drum and the songs that are sung,” Rockbridge said. “To hear and see the amazing bells that are here, adorned on the dancers, chasing away all that is evil, chasing all that is bad and bringing the good back to our people again.”
She encouraged the dancers to pass down the dances and songs so that future generations continue to carry them on.
Kesha Gishey, a 26-year-old jingle-dress dancer who has lived near Chinle for most of her life, was grateful to be back in the powwow arena.
Gishey has danced in powwows since she was 18. She began dancing because of her father, whom she followed to different powwow events.
“It was really nice being inside the circle. I felt that healing stuff that comes with it, so I decided, ‘I’ll give it a try,’” she said.
She noticed jingle-dress dancing made her feel happy and more positive after she started beading and now beads everything she wears when dancing.
She and her father have been dancing at the Central Agency powwow as a “tradition.”
After COVID-19 cancellations, Gishey said it’s been hard to return to powwows, especially after having her daughter and contracting Covid.
“I was really anxious and nervous,” Gishey said. “Yesterday, I was telling my husband, ‘I’m so nervous, and I don’t know why. Everyone’s going to be there, and I know they’re not going to look at me and all but just anxiety.’”
Her initial hesitation about being back at the Chinle fairgrounds soon turned into excitement.
She pointed to her daughter, who participated in the tiny tots competition as a jingle-dress dancer, and said if her daughter was having fun, she was as well.
While Gishey and her family are from the surrounding area, some participants came from as far as Utah.
Lucille Bitsuie brought her great-granddaughter to the Central Agency powwow from Montezuma Creek, Utah.
Her granddaughter has been doing powwow since she was born, said Bitsuie.
They decided to go to Chinle because they heard it over the radio.
“I didn’t even know there was a powwow here,” Bitsuie said. “I tried to look for a flyer, and I couldn’t find (one) until he (her husband) told me it was an announcement on the radio.”
Bitsuie said she likes to support her granddaughter because of the number of things the powwow circuit teaches Native youth.
“The powwow circuit teaches a lot of kids a lot of responsibility when you bring them out,” she said. “Time-wise, they sit and listen and do all their stuff they need to do.”
Bitsuie and her granddaughter said they plan to return to the Central Agency powwow even though they also like going to bigger powwows.