'A good little powwow'

With the aid of Nammy winner, Tuba City High stages a powwow

By Ann Griffis
Special to the Times

TUBA CITY, March 22, 2012

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(Photos by Diego James Robles)

TOP: Grass dancer Albert Jackson, 9, gets his hair done by his mother, Paula Bedonie, while waiting for the start of the Tuba City High School Spring Celebration & Benefit/Contest Powwow on March 3.

SECOND FROM TOP: Hoop dancer Eva Bighorse performs March 3 during the Tuba City High School Spring Celebration & Benefit/Contest Powwow.

THIRD FROM TOP: Grass dancer Jordan Isaiah Jones takes to the floor March 3 during the Tuba City High School Spring Celebration & Benefit/Contest Powwow.

BOTTOM: Jingle dress dancer Corilee Bearshield-Yazzie fixes the hair of her daughter Tahnee, 2, before the start of the Tuba City High School Spring Celebration & Benefit/Contest Powwow on March 3.

When one of Tuba City High's senior class sponsors, Richard Dawavendewa, who teaches art, thinks of fundraisers, he thinks of bake sales.

So the powwow and horsemanship event that senior Kami Jones proposed as a way to raise funds for the class trip to New York City sounded a bit over-the-top.

Dawavendewa didn't know anything about putting on a powwow but Jones assured the teacher that all would go well.

Dawavendewa recalls, "Kami said, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of everything.'"

So he placed his confidence in her.

Jones had never been to a powwow let alone organized one. Fortunately, through her father, Ty Jones, the student had connections with a family friend, Jay Begaye of Steamboat, Ariz., and others who wanted to help.

From the beginning of the school year throughout the March 3 and 4 event at Tuba City High's Warrior Pavilion, Dawavendewa would ask, "Kami, Kami, what do we do next?"

Jones would reply, "I don't know, I don't know! Let me call Jay."

Begaye, 2010 winner of the Native American Music Award for best male artist and a three-time Grammy nominee, served as powwow consultant and arena director.

"Kami has been calling me every day," Begaye said. "She is my shi yazhi, and I care about her and the younger generation."

The Native American performer happily acknowledged that his star appeal helped draw a crowd to the benefit.

"People came to meet me and have me sign their CDs," Begaye said.

He invited Robert Tree Cody, whose renowned flute playing as well as prayers added dazzle and spiritual depth to the event.

Aware of criticism over Facebook and other social media concerning students at Tuba City High putting on a powwow, which is considered a Plains and not Navajo tradition, Begaye took the opportunity to educate.

"Native Americans are all one people," Begaye said. "Furthermore, our Navajo ancestors came from Canada. Our elders and warriors sang these songs a long time ago.

"They are round dance songs," he said. "I moved to Canada in 1987 and lived there for 17 years, and knew the Tsui tine, or Beaver People. They call the tribe Tsui tine, we call it Diné. We speak the same language."

Begaye continued, "One of the chiefs, Blue Starlight, said, 'When you go home, don't be afraid to sing these songs. These are healing songs.'"

Jared Brown, a traditional dancer from Window Rock who currently attends Gateway Community College in Tempe, said, "This was a good little powwow."

Brown was first runner-up in the people's choice competition, which involved traditional, chicken, grass, and fancy dancers of all ages dancing together to the same song.

Brown said, "When they judge the dancers at a contest powwow, they have knowledge of the purpose of the colors, beads, and feathers, the footsteps, and the moves that tell a story. With a people's choice contest, who knows what they're looking for."

He didn't mind losing to a young grass dancer.

"It's all good!" he said.

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