The careers of many pow wow masters’ of ceremonies started out of necessity—having to fill in when a selected head staff member didn’t show up.
For Vernon Ahtone—known to the pow wow world as “Cy” Ahtone—there was no designated moment. Instead, he traces it back to his early childhood in Carnegie, Oklahoma, among his Kiowa people—listening, singing around the drum and learning Kiowa protocol and tradition. This knowledge, and his deep radio-announcer voice, eventually placed him at the MC stand.
“I like people, and I like to talk to them,” said Ahtone, 64, about being an MC. “I was a teacher for several years. I enjoy seeing people learn.”
Ahtone’s life travels took him to Native American communities and urban centers throughout the Plains, where he worked as a machinist for 22 years. As his participation with pow wows outside of the Kiowa community increased, Ahtone found himself continually being asked to explain Kiowa songs and tradition, including the Gourd dance in its original Kiowa context.
Since Ahtone’s gradual shift into the MC role, he has MC’d many pow wows throughout Southwest Oklahoma. In January, Ahtone served as an MC for the Presidential Inauguration Pow Wow in Washington, D.C.
“Being an MC at the pow wow, you run things,” said Ahtone. “You are a buffer between the general public… and the sponsoring organization.”
Ahtone has also served as MC for the Kiowa Gourd Clan and Kiowa Black Leggings Society ceremonials. The Kiowa Black Leggings Society is the veterans' society of the Kiowa Tribe. Because many members of Ahtone's family have served in the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, Ahtone feels "very, very humble that they want me to do this [emcee the ceremonial]."
Although relatives have sometimes asked Cy about sitting on the MC stand and learning his techniques, the primary person to whom he shares his knowledge of Kiowa protocol is his great-grandson Jaylen Pherigo. But, he did have some advice to those wanting to try it out.
“Tell the people what they need to hear,” Ahtone said to those yearning to get on the MC stand. “Keep your mouth shut and ears open until you know exactly what you’re telling them.”