MONTROSE – The first-ever Montrose Colorado Indian Nations Powwow, running Friday and Saturday at Friendship Hall at the Montrose County Fairgrounds, is more than a celebration of Native Americans. It’s a chance for all cultures to come together, says C.J. Brafford, director of the Montrose Ute Indian Museum.
“The purpose is to bring all colors together in unity,” she said. “For everyone to come and enjoy the dances, songs and drumming, meet new people and see old friends.”
Along with Brafford, Roland McCook is a prime promoter of the powwow, which they organized to be held in Montrose since the long-time Council Tree Powwow in Delta was canceled this year for lack of funds.
McCook, a great grandson of Chief Ouray and his wife Chipeta, moved to Montrose in recent years from the Uinta Reservation near Roosevelt, Utah, where he was a member of the Northern Ute Tribal Council. He said one reason for moving here was his close involvement in the Ute Museum, built on the site of Ouray’s farm.
As president of the museum board, McCook often speaks to groups about the culture and history of the Utes.
McCook is also vice chairman of the Repatriation Review Committee of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The committee oversees the repatriation of sacred objects and human remains from the Smithsonian collection to the appropriate tribe. McCook is one of two Native Americans on the committee, while the other five members are scientific experts, and he travels to Washington several times a year to review repatriation recommendations.
Brafford’s history began on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. An Oglala Lakota Sioux, she is the niece of Billy Mills, who won the gold medal in the 10,000 meters race at the 1964 Olympic Games. Her Indian name, KimimiLa, means butterfly, and she’s been director of the museum for 15 years.
“I feel why I’m here at the museum is to bridge cultural awareness,” she said.
Brafford has authored a book, Dancing Colors, about Native American women’s pathways, and she was named Miss Congeniality at the Miss Indian America Pageant in 1983, which earned her some scholarships.
She went on to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, followed by Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University, receiving undergraduate as well as graduate degrees in cultural anthropology and museum studies.
Brafford and McCook frequently give demonstrations of native dances, and will no doubt perform at the powwow. Their grace and dignity was apparent when they danced at the recent Indian and Cowboy Festival at the museum in July.
But there’s more afoot than just demonstrating native dances, and both drummers and dancers will compete for $20,000 in prizes. Admission to the event is $5 for adults, $3 for kids six to 12, and free admission for kids five and under.
The powwow will open at noon on Friday, with vendor and drum and dance contestants’ registration. A demonstration of gourd dancing will be held at 4 p.m. and at 6 p.m. the powwow will hold its Grand Entry, along with “introduction of royalty and VIPs” followed by contest dancing.
More drum and dance contests and other events will be held throughout the festival, which ends at 1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 26, with the announcement of contest winners. Food and craft vendors will also have stands set up throughout the powwow.
Historically, a powwow was a time when Native American leaders would negotiate with the U.S. government, Bradbury said, but it’s also a celebration of traditional song and dance and renewing old friendships.
Traditionally, Delta’s Council Tree Powwow concentrated on the Ute Tribes, but all tribes are featured at the Montrose powwow, Brafford said.
“Many people said they were so disappointed that Delta is not doing it this year, but we’re happy to step in and fill that gap and hope this will be an annual event,” she said.