Celebrate Native American Heritage Month
Mark your calendar for the weekend before Thanksgiving every year to attend Pahrump’s Annual Social Powwow. November is Native American Heritage month and what better way to celebrate than to take part in an authentic powwow.
Pahrump has been hosting this event for 20 years, and it draws people from tribes throughout the West and Southwest to share their traditions with others. Visitors from as far away as Italy and Austria have come to our town to share in the experience.
Coordinated by Pahrump Social Powwow
Pahrump Social Powwow spearheads the event. They became a 501 (c)(3) organization in 2003 and are listed with the state as a domestic nonprofit entity. The committee created a mission statement that describes the purpose of this group and the powwow itself, and it explains why they do it year after year. The mission statement is as follows:
“We create a Cultural and Educational Experience for all peoples through Indigenous Music, Dance, Crafts, Storytelling, and Food.”
It’s a fun and exciting way to learn about the Native American culture. Make it a family event and give your children the opportunity to learn about the Native American way of life and their beliefs and share in their celebration.
Paula Elefante came to Pahrump in 2000 and attended her first powwow. In 2002, she and two of her friends, Sandy Stark and Kathy Stetler, decided to plan the next powwow, which suffered from lack of sponsorship. Within six weeks, they had planned, organized, and run a very successful event. They also laid the groundwork for establishing the non-profit organization. Paula has been involved with it ever since. 2018 was her 16th Pahrump Social Powwow.
Social vs. Competitive Powwows
Many powwows offer competitive dancing involving prizes awarded to various age groups starting from seniors 55+ to tiny tots. The purse in some of these can be as high as $10,000 divided between first, second, and third place in each age bracket. Pahrump’s is not competitive but is a social powwow that offers attendees crafts, food, drink, and lots of dancing, drumming, and singing. They have dancers come from as far away as El Paso, TX. The arena Director is a member of the Onondaga Tribe which is from Northern New York. Other states represented include New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, California, and Nevada. Between 20 and 25 tribes were represented during the 2018 powwow.
The Grand Entry
Be sure to obtain a schedule from the Tourism Department and plan to be on the grounds for the Grand Entry which usually begins at noon on Saturday and Sunday of the weekend event. The color guard comprised of local veterans leads the procession through the opening into the circle and is followed by the dancers. The singers and drummers are situated around the perimeter of the circle and perform during the Grand Entry. Make yourself at home in the bleachers or on the bales of hay placed around the circle providing attendees comfortable seats with a great view of the events.
Enjoy watching the dancers begin dancing before they even enter the circle and experience the excitement and celebration in the air as they make their way into the circle and parade dressed in their colorful regalia. After the initial entry, there is a blessing and presentations. Then, the dancing starts again. The public is often invited to join so you can enter the circle to participate in a Circle Dance with the Native American dancers. This is your chance to become a part of their community.
It is a tradition for the dancers to make their own costumes or regalia as they are called. Feathers, beads, bells, fur, leather, fabric, and other materials are all sewn together into some stunning pieces of art. Some of the regalia are passed down from generation to generation to keep with tradition. You’ll be amazed at the complexities and beauty of the designs.
Arts and Craft Vendors
Browse through the booths of the 30 or more artisans who participate in the festival-like atmosphere to show and sell their Native American artwork, most of which are handmade. Clothing, jewelry, silver and pewter hair clips, intricate wall hangings, decorated buffalo skulls, knives, and handmade Native American blankets are only some of the items you’ll find. Artisans must be indigenous to participate in the craft show and sales. The food vendors are invited based on the types of food they offer. They come from Utah, Las Vegas, Southern California, and Nevada. Indian tacos, fried ice cream, different kinds of Native American bread, and other indigenous food are available along with some of the more traditional festival food.
Authentic Tipi on the Grounds
In 2005, the committee purchased a new tipi to erect on the powwow grounds. It stands near the entry to the circle. On the exterior are paintings of indigenous markings from the local area which make for a great photo opportunity. These markings include the handprint of a WWII Navajo code talker that attended and spoke at the powwow in 2012.
The structure is 18-feet in diameter and is held up with 17 poles measuring 24 feet in length. It takes a minimum of three people to assemble. When you attend the powwow, be sure to visit the tipi and marvel at the artwork and creativity involved.
A Labor of Love
The Pahrump Powwow is a popular cultural event for the participants who come to share their customs and dance for the love of dance. They are proud to teach others about their culture. The powwow is a chance to share and to learn. It’s a chance to watch and to participate. It’s a chance for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and celebrate the history of the Native American people. Bring the whole family and take advantage of this unique event that happens every November in Pahrump, NV.