Come visit the mountain pine trees in northern Arizona in June, and you’ll receive Dagot’ee (Hello) greetings from the White Mountain Apache tribe as they welcome summertime visitors who will feel the triple-digit temperatures of the lowland desert.
“We believe we come from the Earth and belong to it,” says the tribe’s website. “Our unique and beautiful home was given to us by our creator, and is rich in resources, wildlife, outdoor recreation, and tradition.”
At the 17th Annual Pow Wow in the Pines, June 7-8, at the Hon-Dah Festival Grounds in Pinetop, Arizona, there will be “a welcome mat for the White Mountain Apache Tribe,” pow wow helper and Hon-Dah Casino employee Sharon Walker told ICTMN. “Unlike other pow wows, we don’t charge an admission fee.”
Dollars do play a part in the event, however, with $39,000 available in prize money — $9,000 of which goes to the winning members of the drum contest. Last year’s festivities drew 1,200 attendees and nearly 300 participants to the festival grounds and organizers expect more of the same this year.
“Pow wows are important for American Indians to express their cultural heritage and preserve significant traditions,” says WMAT Marketing Director Anne Groebner. “While the dancers are entertaining, and the regalia a feast for the eyes, much more lies beneath the surface as the dances generally represent aspects of Native American spirituality, emotion, history, and traditional society.”
“It’s a time to meet with old friends, make new friends, sing, and dance — an overall uplifting event,” says co-chair Nikina Whitaker (Cheyenne/Arapahoe) who has been on the pow wow committee for 17 years. “While pow wows are not a traditional, cultural part of the Apache tribe, we’ve kind of brought the event onto the reservation,” she says.
Ronnie Lupe, 84, a long-time tribal chairman, is scheduled to bless the grounds before the event begins. As is his tradition, the chairman faces the East and in his Apache language, blesses the festival site, the dancers, and all visitors. Lupe has served the Apache people throughout most of his adult life, the last three decades as tribal chairman, and has offered a lot of traditional corn pollen blessings over the years requesting safety and happiness.
The host drums play an important part in the festivities. “Drum groups provide the rhythms and sounds essential to a pow wow,” says Groebner. “Drum groups are, first and foremost, singers who sit in small circles that surround the drum being played. The energy level attained at an event is created by the drum group. And their music is always haunting, spiritual, and uplifting.”
This year’s Pow Wow in the Pines will also feature an initiation ceremony for two families in which their children are introduced into the pow wow world. “Family members and close friends will speak on their behalf, highlighting their accomplishments in school, sports, and other recognitions,” says Whitaker, adding, “The families will present gifts to those who have been a part of the young person’s life.”
“People who regularly attend pow wows consider this recognition a good thing because it brings young people into the pow wow world, helping ensure its continuation,” Whitaker said.