This weekend, April 15 and 16, the Aspen Indigenous Foundation will host its largest native gathering yet. The nonprofit, responsible for organizing dance expositions, the Shining Mountains Film Festival and a single day powwow in 2019, is expecting upwards of 300 Native Americans representing as many as 75 tribes, plus attendees.
“Aspen has never had a powwow like this,” assured organizer and co-emcee Buffalo Child. He is already planning for a three-day event next year.
He explained that the tradition comes from indigenous groups reuniting after splitting into smaller camps during the scarcer months. “People would share stories, songs, dancing, news history, everything. Some people would have died that winter, some people would have been born.”
Today, the purpose remains much the same. It’s a celebration of life and a place for people to come together. “Some people fall in love,” Buffalo continued. “If somebody gets pregnant at the powwow, we call it a powwow baby. And then that powwow baby becomes a part of a new family that starts off.”
The foundation has raised over $15,000 in prize money to attract talent from throughout the United States. There will be over a dozen dance categories, plus intertribal songs where anyone is welcome to join and dance. Contestants will be judged based on their regalia, style, adherence to tradition and ability to follow the rhythm of singing and drumming.
“It’s pretty intense!” Buffalo told The Sopris Sun. “Some of these guys are excellent athletes.”
For the drumming contest, $3,000 will be awarded to first place, $2,000 for second and $1,000 for third. At the time of our interview, eight drum groups had already signed up.
Buffalo will be joined by emcee Rick Yazzie. The host drum group, doing special songs, is The Descendants. The head man and woman are both Ute. There will also be other visiting royalty, put up at hotels in Aspen.
“The Utes have been here a long time, it’s their traditional land,” Buffalo commented. “We went out of our way to get a Ute emcee and Ute head man and Ute head woman dancer. Unfortunately, the emcee couldn’t make it. He had a big commitment at another gathering.”
Buffalo was sure to list the event on powwows.com, where it has accrued over 12,000 views. Additionally, posters were sent to reservations and the arena director, Nathan Littlechild, sent notice through his networks.
Regarding vendors, Buffalo said there will be between 10 and 20, including a Navajo woman preparing fried bread and Navajo tacos, plus other food concession vendors and several crafts people selling beadwork and silver and turquoise jewelry.
The event takes place at Aspen High School. Both days will begin around 1 p.m. On Sunday, the weekend will conclude with a victory dance and prayers around 5 p.m. The event is expected to go well into the evening on Saturday.
Tickets are $10 for general admission, $5 for students, veterans and seniors and children under the age of 12 will be welcomed for free.
“It’s going to be a special gathering for natives,” concluded Buffalo. “People who come out here will have the chance to be immersed in native song and dance … done in a traditional format.”