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Circle the Bluffs Powwow: Cultural event at Legacy educates, entertains
July 01, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Maxine Broken Nose, of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, chants during the powwow’s dance competitions at Legacy of the Plains.

Various tribes came to Gering this past weekend for the Circle the Bluffs Powwow at Legacy of the Plains Museum to perform ritual dances and educate the hundreds of visitors who watched.

The Scotts Bluff National Monument overlooked the dusty prairie floor where dancers, mostly Lakota, and visitors gathered for the powwow. Just beyond the museum’s main entrance Native American dancers of all ages dressed in bright colors with ornate medallions, and various arrangements of feathers, took slow halting steps in a dance circle to the pounding rhythms of the drums, and the powerful voices belting out traditional chants. Meanwhile, guests settled in lawn chairs underneath wooden lattice covered with pine tree branches to take in the almost spiritual setting.

The event featured Master of Ceremony Kelly Looking Horse, and Arena Director Edison Red Nest, Jr. The host drums were played by White River Crossing, and the honor drums by the Pine Ridge Agency Singers. A color guard was represented by Wild Horse Butte Tokala.

Organizer Jina Red Nest said, “We raised funds for several activities that are a part of the powwow. We got the idea to make it a family event. Native Americans gather like this for the naming ceremony (which took place Sunday), or graduation ceremonies, or if a child is coming to dance for the first time. That’s what this is about. We’ve done this for thousands of years.”

Red Nest added, that through this event, “we’re able to share our culture. We need to educate the younger generations about our culture. If you’re Indian, non-Indian, visitors should know about the “continuity of our heritage and our culture. We’re keeping our traditions alive by having these celebrations, and dances.”

The powwow here in Gering is once a year, but in between coming to west Nebraska, “we have smaller community powwows usually centered on holidays, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and other holidays,” Red Nest said. “Plus, the drum groups share their story of how they came to learn the music and all the traditional songs from their parents and grandparents, and they continue to do that, with our people who are spread all over the Panhandle. It’s a thread, a line. We keep it going. A part of the ceremonies is respect for one another.”

Looking Horse, 60, of the Pine Ridge Reservation’s Waka Ama Lake community has been announcing since about 1980, and for this powwow when it began about 10 years ago.

Looking Horse said, the powwow came to Legacy of the Plains for the first time last year, after short stints at the UNL Extension Center in Scottsbluff, and then Western Nebraska Community College.

“We have a variety of different things going on, like the different dance competitions, different dance categories, and exhibition dancing,” said Looking Horse, who is also a singer and dancer himself, as well as an educator for the Lakota community. He regularly attends the powwows with his wife and four daughters, a son, and three grandchildren who all take part. “We travel together and dance together. It’s about building a bridge between the Indians and non-Indians; to try to get on the same page with respect, honor, unity and education. Then, with dance for example, we’ll explain what’s happening and how it relates to our traditions and history.”

Looking Horse added, “It’s also breaking down stereotypes. People think we’re all drunks, lazy, and living on reservations, and feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re trying to change that image of ourselves. We’re not like that. A lot of us have jobs, a lot of us are educated. A lot of us are sober, and don’t take drugs. Family is very important to us. So, the powwow is like an educational tool.”

Sonny Richards leads the color guard at the closing of the Circle the Bluffs Powwow on the grounds of Legacy of the Plains Museum.

Chloe Bear Killer, of North Platte, competes in the dance competitions. Below: Wearing ornate medallions she and her family made, Annie Broken Nose is amused by Master of Ceremony Kelly Looking Horse.
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