The Wanbli Ota Club of Fort Lewis College hosted the 53rd annual Hozhoni Days Powwow on Friday and Saturday last weekend at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango, Colorado. This year’s theme was, “honoring veterans of all conflicts.”
Wanbli Ota, which means “many eagles” in the Lakota language, is a student run non-profit organization that aims to promote cultural diversity on campus and in the surrounding communities.
“We would like to thank everyone who attended this year's powwow and especially all of the veterans who decided to come out for our honoring,” Skyler Bordeaux, the president of Wanbli Ota said.
The Powwow kicked off on Friday night, at $6 a person, with a grand entry honoring of veterans and a prayer over the youth who will continue to uphold tradition.
The gym of the Fort Lewis Skyhawks was colorfully lit by native regalia and resonated with energy as dancers from nine different divisions performed in front of a packed bleachers filled with Native Americans from all over the country.
"Attendance varies, but with the San Juan not putting on their powwow, we expected a bigger turnout," he said. "The word is getting out about our Powwow and we expect it to keep growing every year."
Native memorabilia was also for sale including traditional jewelry and rugs. In addition, creative works were sold , such as native Star Wars t-shirts and on the spot comedy paintings.
Divisions included the golden age (55+), adults (18-54), teens (13-17), jrs (6-12) and lastly the tiny tots (6 and under). The styles of dance were also diverse with dances like northern/southern traditional, grass, jingle and fancy.
As motivation to participants, the Wanbli Ota gave over $13,000 in prize money.
According to Bordeaux, judges are chosen by Bruce Leclaire, the head judge of the event, who chooses experienced dancer who have previously judged at powwows.
Footwork is a determining factor in evaluating one's skill level on the dance floor, Byron Grant, a judge and dancer of the men's division said.
"You can tell who is good," he said.
In this event, dancers had no particular direction to display their talents because judges were often scattered amongst the crowd, making the performance more natural. The crowd cheered when the drums stopped beating and dancers ended their routine perfectly with stunts like the splits.
The music was provided by northern and southern drumming groups consisting of 4-10 members. Callin Eagle and Southern Style won the northern and southern drumming competition.
Prior to the Hozhoni Days Powwow, a contest was held to determine the next Miss Hozhoni, who is a native representative of Fort Lewis College at a variety of events. Natalia Sells, a 21-year-old Navajo from Shiprock, was announced the new Miss Hozhoni on Saturday night.
“I was very surprised because this was my first pageant,” she said. “My favorite part of the event was making a deer meat stir fry with pinions and cranberries.”
Sells is a student at Fort Lewis College, majoring in Business Administration with a minor in English communications and believes her involvement on Fort Lewis College campus contributed to her winning.
On three separate evenings there was an interview, a traditional foods demonstration and an evening where each contestant had to present a traditional or contemporary talent, according to Dr. Frances Kay Holmes, a faculty representative of the Hozhoni committee that consisted of seven members.
Contestants of the pageant were from many nations including the Dine’ (Navajo), Santa Domingo Pueblo, Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa (the Three Affiliated Tribes).
Ferrari Arviso, the former Miss Hozhoni from New Mexico, is graduating from Fort Lewis College this semester and spent a lot of time representing the collge, logging over 500 hours.
“Throughout my year I tried to attend as many events as I can, I did a lot of events that are based on campus and attended several of the Navajo nation fairs, animal shows, the rodeos, and went as far as Salt Lake City hitting different Powwow’s.”
Arviso had some advice for the new Miss Hozhoni.
“My biggest recommendation is to be humble and hold yourself with respect, to be able to stand your ground around people and know who you are as a person,” she said.
The 54th annual Hozhoni Days Powwow will commence next year in the same location. A theme and date are to be announced.