Each summer, thousands of Native American tribes across the country celebrate their connections to tradition and spirituality in a gathering known as a pow wow. Dressed in traditional regalia, tribal members join together to pay homage to their ancestry, participate in dance and drum contests and showcase pieces of their heritage in the Indian Art Auction.
For the third consecutive year, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe is hosting Julyamsh, one of the largest outdoor pow wows in the nation. The event is this weekend at the Greyhound Park in Post Falls.
"The Coeur d'Alene people would camp along the river from the mouth and all the way around the lake at different spots in the early-1800s. Over the years, people would meet up with the fur trappers. They always liked to have a rendezvous to celebrate Independence Day," says Cliff Sijohn, director of Julyamsh. "Everyone would gather and race horses, compete against each other on foot and gamble before they separated for the winter. It was just a big celebration with big activities for people to let off a little steam before having to work hard for the winter."
Julyamsh continues this special time when the Schitsu'umsh, or the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, made contact with white traders during July. During this period, the Schitsu'umsh traded heavily with the fur trapping companies near the Kalispel House on Pend Oreille Lake. The trading continued down to Lake Coeur d'Alene and the upper Spokane River areas. The Schitsu'umsh referred to the celebration with a borrowed English word, July, and their own Schitsu'umsh language word for gathering of people, or "amsh." The 1998 Julyamsh celebration was a return to the original camping areas on the river and the first pow wow celebration since the 1900s. In 1999, the event attracted more than 30,000 visitors each day.
Today, pow wows are held all across the North American continent, from small towns such as Bonners Ferry to some of the largest, such as in Los Angeles. They are held anywhere from cow pastures to convention centers, and while most seem to take place in the summer, many occur year round. These festivals last only one weekend, but usually draw Native Americans and visitors from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Some come to these celebrations to 'contest' in drumming and dancing, some come to sing songs, some come to see relatives and friends and some come for the atmosphere. Today, the pow wow serves as one of the main cultural activities of Native Americans.
"It's just a great day to be alive," says Sijohn. "And we are inviting all of our neighbors to enjoy the great food, the great art from 20 featured Indian artists and all the other events that will come together for a great get-together."
The event begins Friday night with the opening ceremonies scheduled for 6 pm and the grand entry at 7 pm. The grand entry features tribal members marching in on horses dressed in beautiful and colorful regalia. The celebration continues on Saturday and Sunday with the grand entry at 1 pm and the dinner break at 5 pm. This year's event will include a $57,400 dance contest, a $30,000 drum contest, an Indian art auction and an Indian horse parade. The art show and auction will be held Saturday at 5 pm. The art show will be at the indoor grandstand area and will feature paintings, cradle boards, embossings, lithographs, prints, beadwork, weaving, glasswork, quillwork, drums, silverwork and Indian dolls. American Indian food will be featured at various vendors around the park.
"It's an event where everyone can pile in the car, including parents, kids and grandparents, and enjoy a piece of American culture," says Sijohn. "The tempo of the pow wow is for everyone to have a good time."
Julyamsh opens at the Greyhound Park in Post Falls on Friday, July 21, at 6 pm and runs through the weekend. The vendors will be open at 9 am on the weekends with the grand entry on both days scheduled for 1 pm. The event is free to the public. Parking is $5 per day or $10 for the entire event. Call: (800) 523-2464.