With suitcases in hand and braids in place, people of all ages stood in line at the Whalen Gymnasium on April 1, eager to take in the excitement of The Hozhoni Days PowWow at Fort Lewis College after two years of its absence due to the pandemic.
‘Honoring those who never made it home’ was the theme for the 56th annual powwow at FLC, in regard to the boarding schools where bodies have been found in the last two years in the United States and Canada.
The Hozhoni Days PowWow originated in 1966, Shasta Hampton, student engagement coordinator at the Native American Center, said. Clyde Benally helped create Hozhoni Days which originally started as a three day event, featuring a powwow and basketball tournament, Hampton said.
Noah Shadlow, president of Wanbli Ota said that planning for the event started almost a year ago, last fall, as soon as school started.
Many people traveled from all over the nation, as far as Oklahoma, Shadlow said. The event had 12 different drum groups.
The powwow sold out both days with over 1,000 guests in attendance. For both days they had about 523 dancers registered, Shadlow said. The dancers' categories ranged from “Tiny Tots”, who were were five years old and under, to “Golden Age”, who were 55 and over.
Day one started Friday evening at 5 p.m. Opening were the Gourd Dancers, followed by an opening prayer for the powwow weekend. All the registered dancers, no matter their style, gathered in the arena and danced together for the Grand Entry.
The dancers showed the crowd their intricate regalia and different styles of dances, like grass dancing, jingle dress, fancy shawl, fancy dancing and southern style dancing. The dances were shown in different categories that they later competed in.
That evening they announced the 2022-2023 Hozhoni Ambassador, Amber Herrod and First Attendant, Aaliyah Juanico, both from the Navajo Nation Tribe.
According to volunteer Kylie Cayedito, day two had many people in line an hour and a half before the doors opened, and that day they sold out around 2 p.m. at maximum capacity. Before the event began, the air was filled with sweet grass as dancers were getting ready.
People were walking around looking at all the jewelry and trinkets at the vendor booths. There were about 30 vendors who filled up the other half of the gym, selling all sorts of items.
For the second day, as part of the regalia special, dancers wore orange regalia in honor of the children who lost their lives away at boarding schools.. After waiting two years to put on their dancing shoes, the long-awaited event marked the end of the weekend’s events, closing out at around 12 a.m..