Pow-wow dancers of all ages, adorned in an array of regalia performing dances to the thunder of drums, is what you can experience at this weekend’s Ely Shoshone’s Fandango Pow-Wow.
The event begins on Friday, July 27, at 5 p.m. at 250 Heritage Drive. The event runs through Sunday. Admission is free with several different activities and events such as a free barbecue, parade and fun run/walk. Take your pick, or jump into the action of a horseshoe, volleyball, archer, cornhole or handgame tournament. Don’t be late for the grand entry at 6 p.m. on Friday. But don’t worry, there are several more scheduled for Saturday.
The event also boasts the variety of Native American food, art and craft booths. Artists featuring works in a variety of intricate Native American beadwork to authentic jewelry will have their work on display.
Several pow-wow dancers from all over the United States gather at this event to perform, and compete for prizes. Drum groups share captive music as dancers energetically move with meaning and purpose. Much of the regalia the performers wear takes months and sometimes years to piece together. Many are family heirlooms that are worn adding even more effect to the traditions displayed at this event.
Many may wonder what Fandango means? Trent Griffith explains to us. The word fandango is a Spanish word that was adopted over time since the Spanish were the first to make contact with the Shoshones. The fandango has long been referred to as a social event that mainly involves dancing.
Fandangos were done all over, before there were cars and people would either walk or travel by horse.
Trent Griffith, Secretary /Treasurer for the Ely Shoshone Tribe, and manager of TSAA Dispensary explains that long ago fandangos would involve many different dances and the festivities would last around a week. Different dances were traditionally done during different times of the year. Now they have evolved into one celebration. Griffith says “two main dances that were done was the bear dance and the circle dance. The bear dance is a ladies choice dance where the girl will pick the boy she wants to dance with by flicking her shawl at him. If he didn’t want to dance with her, he would have to pay her off some way. In this dance you cant dance with a relative, and boyfriends and girlfriends have to dance with other people. The circle dance is a side step dance where the dancers side step going in a circle.”
Along with the dances people would also play games too. One game is called handgame, or in Shoshone, naiyawi. The game requires two teams that sit across form each other, a set of sticks that count as points, and two sets of “bones.” The “bones” are separate from each other where one is marked and one isn’t. The hiders will have one in each hand and the other team tries to guess which hand is holding the unmarked “bone.” You get a stick for every time the other team guesses wrong and once your team has all the sticks, you win. Griffith notes that he is the handgame director. “Its kind of a gambling game where you make a bet with somebody on the other team, it could be anything but it’s mostly money now days.”
Last year the Ely Shoshone Tribe introduced Gourd Dancing to the event. It was so successful that they brought it back again this year.
Inspired by both legend and history, the gourd dance ceremony is an essential part of the Kiowa people. A dance that was banned by the federal government in the late 19th century, and revived in 1946.
The dance is performed by men only, a dance that was often performed by warriors and veterans. The dance is spirited and meaningful, yet has little movement. The songs matter as much as the steps though.
A drum is placed in the center of the arena or the side. Dancers take their place around the perimeter of the area. Dancers dance in place ,lifting their feet in time to the drumbeats, and shaking their gourds from side to side. Singing, and the sound of drum beats get stronger as the dance goes on.
Ely Shoshone Tribe Council’s Chairwoman, Diana Buckner noted how proud the tribe was to present an event that offers the opportunity to enrich knowledge and appreciation for the native culture and customs.
Buckner, “I am so pleased that it’s turned into such a large event. From the locals who attend the event to the tourists that come here for the event, it gives a boost to our town economically”. Griffith looks forward to the yearly event noting that he is always happy to see the many old and new faces at the Fandango enjoying themselves. “Our fandango really means a lot to me as it brings people together, there is something for everybody to participate in”, Griffith said.