Soon after crossing the Red River from Texas into Oklahoma, you notice a preponderance of Native American imagery on signs, license plates, and billboards. Turnpikes are named for tribes, and official signs along the highways announce when you’ve entered an Indian nation—for instance, the Creek Nation or the Choctaw Nation. I have no idea what this means exactly. I believe these Nations within our nation are self-governing and separate from the U.S. government, though not completely autonomous.
The history of the Oklahoma tribes is tragic. So there’s some irony in the widespread evocation of Indian (this seems to be the preferred term) history and culture in Oklahoma today. We’d never explored this culture until our trip to Tulsa last week, when we attended a pow wow, a social gathering of Native Americans for drumming, dancing, and ceremony.
Here are some images from the Intertribal Indian Club of Tulsa’s 2008 Pow Wow of Champions. My zoom lens lacked the power to shoot with clarity across the dimly lit hall. Despite the graininess of the images, I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse of the colorful, rhythmic dances of the pow wow, as we did.
Children and adults danced in a wide circuit to the thrumming beat from an all-male drum circle. These two boys, one solemn, one frowning in concentration, stomped and kicked with gusto.
The dancers wore elaborate, colorful costumes. Our program noted that different tribes might wear different types of costumes, and the various dances require special accessories. Many of the dancers had sewn flashy, distinctly modern elements, like shiny, silver CD disks, onto their sleeves. The young man pictured above was striking in a silver lamÃ© tunic. Indian culture is a living culture, the program advised us, and dancers do not feel obligated to restrict themselves to traditional materials when making their pow wow costumes.
In contrast, this woman’s traditional-looking costume stood out among the dancers. I admired it as she shuffled with dignity around the floor.
Beautiful beadwork and ribbons on the back of her dress.
As she came around the circle again, she caught me looking.
A trio of young girls in shawls, warming up for the Shawl Dance, perhaps.
The men were the peacocks among the dancers. Their costumes glowed in almost neon colors, and many wore elaborate headdresses of feathers.
A trio of young men.
This boy was really dancing. I hope he won the children’s contest later on that evening.
The next generation
All material Â© 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.