Powwow at Aspen High School gathers tribes from nationwide, celebrates community and culture
Artists, dancers, drummers, jewelry-makers, singers, chefs, and storytellers — members of tribal nations in Arizona, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Wyoming, and elsewhere — will pour into Aspen this weekend for what organizers describe as an authentic powwow.
It will be held Saturday and Sunday, starting at 1 p.m. both days at Aspen High. A $10 ticket (Military veterans and kids under 12 are free) to the Shining Mountains Powwow offers guests music, drumming, and dance competitions. Dancers in handmade regalia and drummers will compete. Traditional food, hand-crafted jewelry, and art will be sold.
Organizer Deanne Vitrac-Kessler, of the Aspen Indigenous Foundation, says that historically, powwows were a crucial chance for far-flung tribe members — from Florida Seminoles to New York Mohicans to Colorado Utes — “to meet, celebrate their culture, and strengthen their sense of community.”
Now, powwows are a reminder that culture “is a living, exciting, evolving.”
For example, millennials and Gen Z rappers are adapting ancient languages like Navajo into lyrics for beats that reflect Drake and Jay Z and indigenous drummers. And regalia’s intricate beadwork and use of jewel tone colors of amber, ruby, turquoise, and emerald influenced a new generations of native fashion designers, including Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa), who’s been showcased in Vogue; Erik, and Amanda Ginew (Ojibwe, Oneida and Mohican), who were praised in Vogue and GQ; and Lauren Good Day (Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet, Cree), who was extolled by Vogue for incorporating authentic regalia patterns and beadwork in her fashion line.
The powwow is Aspen’s chance to see regalia which are works of art.
Powwows became a way for tribal members to share their stories and culture with people of all races and ethnicities.
That can scare some potential guests. The history of tribal nations has been marked by tragedies and betrayals. But Vitrac-Kessler emphasizes that the Aspen powwow “is a celebration of joy and pride in a culture that is vibrant and fascinating. Everyone is welcome, and guests will enjoy the event and leave happy.”
The first Shining Mountains Powwow in Aspen was in 2019, created by Anuk Bald Eagle, a Lakota. The pandemic canceled it repeatedly until last year, when it was held at Aspen High.
This year, Vitrac-Kessler says, Aspen students formed a club in support of the foundation’s charitable outreach and research. Much of it focuses on the Utes, who had Roaring Fork as their ancestral land. Aspen students raised enough money to buy and donate over a dozen laptops to indigenous children.
The foundation contributes food, clothing, and funds to indigenous communities and supports efforts like equine therapy. Vitrac-Kessler, from France, said she became engaged with indigenous culture when she attended an American powwow with her mom.
Now, powwow veteran and World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie, a member of the Meskwaki Nation, is the foundation’s cultural adviser.
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