By Puyallup Tribal News Staff
Dancers commanded attention even as they stood still with bold feathers, tassels and jingles stitched to their brightly colored regalia. Then it was impossible to look away as teams twirled and stomped their way around a spacious dance floor, charged by the thunderous rumble of drums.
It was time for the 44th annual Puyallup Labor Day Powwow which brought three days of festivity to Chief Leschi Schools, from Sept. 1 to 3. Activity centered on a large tent that was erected on campus for one of the year’s biggest cultural events.
Tribes came from near and far to celebrate Indigenous culture and to compete for prizes in dance and drum competitions. Grand Entry began at 7 p.m. on Friday, and the first 15 drum circles were awarded cash prizes. On Saturday, Grand Entry began at noon and again at 7 p.m. There was also a salmon bake from 5 to 7 p.m. On Sunday, Grand Entry began at noon.
The event was organized by the Puyallup Tribal Powwow committee. Coordinator Lauren Butler has been involved with the event since its inception in 1980, the year she was crowned Miss Puyallup Nation.
What inspires her to keep coming back after all these years? “It’s in my blood,” she said. “It has been an honor to be selected by our Tribal Council to be on the Puyallup Tribal Powwow Committee, and I strive to make our Tribal Council and our Tribe a shining example of being a generous people and to be a positive example of a healthy, loving community.”
Butler facilitates almost all aspects of the event behind the scenes, including the venue, equipment, delivery, and set-up. She also helps coordinate the employees, volunteers and arena staff.
Hundreds of spectators and competitors filled the performance space this year. Along the edge of the floor sat drummers who performed traditional songs and kept the beat going all weekend.
Vendors set up their tents and food trucks outside. Their wares included jewelry, clothing, art and more. Food vendors offered mouthwatering menus that included fry bread, Indian tacos, “rez dogs,” boba tea and fresh huckleberry lemonade.
One of the most anticipated powwow events was the royalty competition, with many eager young Puyallup Tribal members running this year. Four titles were up for grabs: Junior Puyallup Nation Warrior (ages 5 to 14), Senior Puyallup Nation Warrior (ages 15-21), Junior Miss Puyallup Nation (ages 5 to 14), and Senior Miss Puyallup Nation (ages 15-21).
Competitors were judged based on four categories: amount of raffle tickets sold, dance, speech and participation. Winners typically retain their titles for one year.
Nine-year-old Sitka Firepower DoubleRunner-Earl said he attends events like the Labor Day Powwow for his community, ancestors and family. He dances traditional style and was taught by his parents, Frank Earl Sr. and Martina DoubleRunner. His favorite aspect about going to powwows is traveling, he says.
Ché Ortiz-Conway says it’s an honor to win the title of Senior Warrior. He dances the grass dance. He says it is a healing dance that came from the Omaha Tribe. He has been dancing this style dance for four months. He says the meaning of powwow for him is “tradition” and he aims to “keep culture alive.”
Gwen Conway is new to participating in powwows and said she decided to run for a royalty title this year because she wants to be a “good role model to everybody.” She dances jingle and fancy dress. Jingle dress dancing is a healing dance, while the fancy dance is a contemporary prayer dance. She says the shawl worn for fancy-style dancing acts as a butterfly. If you want to run for Junior Miss Puyallup “just go for it! Just put your all into it,” Gwen said.
Finally, 16-year-old Naiyeli Cruz-Garcia won Senior Miss Puyallup Nation this year. She said it felt surreal to hear her name called. She said, “This has been my dream since I was a little girl, to be on the stage just dancing. It was a really good experience.” She dances the jingle dress dance as well. She says she dances for “those who can’t” and those who need healing and prayers.
Three Puyallup royalty title holders had their outgoing specials. An outgoing royalty special is a chance for the outgoing royalty to thank the community for its support and to honor those who contributed to their success with gifts. Typically, their families go out on the floor with them to show support. This is often when a family can sponsor a contest of their choosing.
Here is a list of the 2022-2023 Outgoing Puyallup Labor Day Pow-Wow Royalty:
Junior Puyallup Nation Warrior 2022-2023 Jeremiah Wahchumwah
Junior Miss Puyallup Nation 2022-2023 Patty Finley
Senior Miss Puyallup Nation 2022-2023 Tala P Mitchell
Here is a list of the 2023-2024 Puyallup Labor Day Pow-Wow Royalty:
Junior Puyallup Nation Warrior 2023-2024 Sitka Firepower DoubleRunner-Earl
Senior Puyallup Nation Warrior 2023-2024 Ché Ortiz Conway
Junior. Miss Puyallup Nation 2023-2024 Gwen Conway
Senior Miss Puyallup Nation 2023-2024 Naiyeli Cruz-Garcia