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Generations of tradition passed down at 34th Annual Friendship Powwow

The Denver Art Museum hosted the event Saturday.

DENVER — Time typically stands still at the Denver Art Museum, but not on Saturday.

More than 50 tribes from as far as Canada breathed some life into the walls surrounding them.

“I feel like this powwow establishes that we are living people with living cultures and living traditions,” said John Cummins, head man of the 34th Annual Friendship Powwow.

Cummins said it's a chance for them to reconnect with family and friends, and most importantly, celebrate who they are.

“We like to have unique ways of showing how we dance, you know, showing how we dance to the drum, and you get points for that,” he said. “You have first, second, and third.”

The judges are looking for a story in each step. 

“They like to see who has some good moves and who is staying on the beat of the drum,” Cummins said.

He added that seeing all of this for yourself re-establishes your connection to the earth.

“By your dancing and by the drum, and you feel a good heartbeat in your heart,” he said.

Elizabeth Standingbear Light in the Lodge, 17, suited up Saturday and earned first place. 

“I get a lot of adrenaline when I am out there,” she said.

She was sporting moccasins she made herself. That’s a big deal for young ladies, as a symbol of womanhood.

“For me, the transition going into a woman was more of a mature mindset,” she said. “There becomes a point you cannot just rely on your mom and your dad anymore, and you have to start to learn how to do things yourself, so it’s a very significant time in your life.”

She said she hopes that the next time she hits the arena in her regalia, she'll proudly wear what she’s been working on nonstop for the past four days.

“I am working on a cape,” she said.

She anticipates it will take her about two months to finish it. The design has been passed through the generations from her great-grandmother.

“I feel very honored to carry her with me when I dance,” she said.

She also added a few of her own touches to build on the family designs. She first started by drawing it all out on paper a few times. She described it as very geometric, which is significant to her tribe.

“This looks like an elk to me," she said as she described the cape. "It might be something different. I am still learning and interpreting these symbols.”

Another important part of the design is the star.

“We believe we came from the stars first, before we were here on the Earth, and one day we will go back to the stars,” she said. “So a lot of what we do in our spirituality revolves around connecting earth to the stars.

“Coming to this powwow itself, it's amazing to be dancing in one room, and also be in another room where there’s a bunch of artifacts from our ancestors, you know, so in a way I feel like we are bringing back that spiritual energy to those relics.”

The 34th Annual Friendship Powwow at the Denver Art Museum is part of the reconciliation the tribes have been looking for.

“When you talk about reconciliation and healing, what does that mean? It means reclaiming our identities, our artifacts,” Cummins said. “A lot of times, they're by themselves and people just admire them. They look at them, but for them to hear the bells and the dancing and the songs, it probably really makes those relics really feel good.”

Cummins said he hopes one day that reconciliation will be taken a step farther.

“What I envision for me is that these artifacts would make it back to their owners. Can you image the reconciliation and healing that could happen if young children, youth, of all these different tribes could see these artifacts in front of their eyes and also even touch it and hold it?” he said.  

He said one way people can support Native American tribes is buying their handmade goods, like jewelry, which were on sale outside the Denver Art Museum on Saturday.

The powwow was free for the public and also included food and artmaking activities.

More than $5,000 in cash was awarded to first through third place finishers in three different categories.

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