Elders disrespected at Gathering of Nations

My name is Clark Zephier. I am a 72-year-old Northern Traditional dancer who dances in the Golden Age category. I have been dancing for many years and I hear many of my fellow dancers complain about how we elders are disrespected in the powwow circle.

We are combined with other categories just as tiny tots are, and the prize money at many powwows is usually less than the other adult categories. But the main complaint is that the age of 50 or 55 is too young to be a Golden Age dancer. If you ask these young men, they would probably say, “hoh, nahonhci ma teca yelo” translation “I’m still young yet.” But inside the powwow circle they want to claim to be elders because it’s easier to beat an old man like me.

This year I went to the Gathering of Nations powwow in New Mexico for the first time and I danced in the Elders category which was 70 years and older. I won 2nd place and received $300, the 1st place winner received $400. In the other adult categories, the 1st place winner received $2000.

 I believe this is very disrespectful to we elders because we were not even considered adults. One of the dancers complained about the prize money and Derek Mathews who “owns” this powwow said that we should be glad that he even had a category for elders.

This man who runs the powwow is not Native American, he is African American and I assume he got rich off all of us who attended this powwow. He sells a piece of string for $30 that you can wear around your wrist, and you cannot get in and out of the powwow without it. Everybody had to pay this: dancers, singers, elders, and even little children, and I saw thousands of people sitting in the stands.

If the price for these pieces of string had been higher we probably all would’ve paid it, and that’s just at this year’s powwow. In my mind, I can picture him laughing at us. I have only gone to that powwow once out of the 72 years that Tunkasila allowed me to be here, and I would never return to that powwow ever again. One time is enough.

I will instead be going to a powwow that’s happening the same time in another place. Maybe those people who run powwows should get together have a big powwow the same time. And I encourage all elders to stay away from the Gathering of Nations powwow unless you don’t mind being disrespected.

In closing I want to say I believe that the Golden Age men’s category should be around the 60-65 age and up, and not combined. Treat us the same as the rest of the adults because I think we deserve it, and the young men should stay in their own age range. I don’t mind contest powwows, they are a lot of fun to be at because lots of people show up, and we get to see all our friends and relatives. There’s no telling who you’re going to see at a powwow.

Long ago there wasn’t contest. We danced to dance. But now it’s not like that; money draws the people together and that’s just the way it is today.

So if you’re going to have a contest, be respectful and be fair to everybody because some people will travel a long way to be at your powwow. Or maybe I just come from a different era, and what I think is fair and respectful isn’t how it is now days.

I thank you for reading this letter and remind everyone that if you respect yourself, you will respect others.

-Clark Zephie
South Dakota


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Elders disrespected at Gathering of Nations

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