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MEEKER I This weekend’s Smoking River Pow Wow is more than just a dance.
“We just don’t consider this a two-day event or a dance,” said Meeker’s Lynn Lockwood, a member of the local powwow committee. “This is not just a performance. The powwow dancing is nice, but it’s not the point of the whole event. This is a community celebration.”
As for the event itself, which starts Friday afternoon and runs through Saturday night at Ute Park, west of Meeker, “It’s like a big block party,” Lockwood said.
In the case of this block party, the “neighbors” are the residents of Meeker and the visiting members of the Ute Tribe, whose ancestors are former residents of the area.
“The powwow started as something between the people who currently inhabit the White River Valley and the people who used to inhabit the White River Valley, who mostly now live on a reservation in Fort Duchesne (Utah),” Lockwood said. “This has been about welcoming (the Utes) back here.”
Last year’s inaugural Smoking River Pow Wow was historic in that it represented the first time the Utes had returned to the White River Valley since their ancestors were banished in the late 1800s, following the uprising where Nathan Meeker and other White River Indian Agency workers were killed. Meeker tried unsuccessfully to convert the Utes from hunters to farmers.
“Last year’s powwow was all about healing,” Lockwood said. “The door has been opened.”
In the documentary film “We Shall Remain,” tribal elder Clifford Duncan, who will participate again in this year’s powwow, said the Utes, even though they were transplanted to the desert of Utah many years ago, have always had an attachment to the White River Valley.
“Native Americans do not forget where they came from. We’re still mountain people. They didn’t remove us. We’re still here. We are still attached to Meeker,” Duncan said. “You can remove a person from a country, but you can never remove a country from a person.”
Loya Arrum, another Ute elder, said the “psychological trauma” of being displaced is still felt today.
“I feel that loss and that hurt,” Arrum. “Having a powwow isn’t a healing. It’s just saying we’re here. We’re dancing.”
Duncan, like Lockwood, said the powwow represented a “chance to begin healing.”
“After nearly 130 years, the Utes are once again dancing near the White River,” Duncan said.
While the healing process continues, the focus has been on relationship-building and establishing an ongoing dialogue between the community of Meeker and the members of the Ute Tribe.
“We can’t do it (put on the powwow) without them,” Lockwood said of the Utes’ participation and support. “That’s the reason the powwow has been so successful, is that it requires interaction on a year-round basis.”
Evidence of that developing relationship was the donation of a buffalo by the Northern Ute Tribe for a feast to be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at Ute Park.
“The buffalo feast is a gift from the Northern Ute Tribe back to the community of Meeker,” Lockwood said. “That is an enormous gesture by a people who have every right to hold a grudge if they wanted to, but they have decided they want to reciprocate in this project. I can’t convey how grateful I am.”
Bill Kight and Chuck Mills of the powwow committee picked up the buffalo meat last week and delivered it to Purkey Packing Plant in Meeker. The meat for the buffalo feast will be prepared by local chef Andy Chadwick.
The Utes have donated to the powwow in other ways, too, such as sponsoring a hand game tournament at this year’s powwow. The powwow is also funded by sponsorships from local businesses as well as a grant by the Colorado Council of the Arts.
In addition to the powwow dances, Ute descendant Wayne Gardner will be on hand to play original Ute music, and Ute artist Kessley La Rose, whose painting was used for the powwow poster, will have his original artwork on display at Fawn Creek Gallery during the event. The painting will be sold in a silent auction, with the proceeds being used to bring Ute children camping in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Other Ute artwork will be on display at Wendll’s Wondrous Things in downtown Meeker.
La Rose, who is involved in ethnobotany projects — combining the study of a culture and plants indigenous to a particular region — is interested in working with the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center to landscape the memorial at the Milk Creek Battle site, east of Meeker, with plants that “will be sustainable there and culturally meaningful,” Lockwood said. The memorial at the battle site pays tribute to the Ute warriors and U.S. soldiers who died there.
A highlight of the Smoking River Pow Wow is the grand entry dances, which will take place at 7 p.m. Friday and again at 1 and 7 p.m. on Saturday. And between 1 and 2 p.m. Saturday, there will be a veterans honor dance.
“All veterans are welcome to participate,” Lockwood said.
While the powwow will feature dancers from the Ute tribes, the Meeker locals are encouraged to not only attend the free event, but to participate. The powwow is intended to be an interactive experience, Lockwood said.
“This adds so much to our community,” Lockwood said. “There is an opportunity for everyone to get involved. The powwow dancing is nice, but it is not the point of the whole event. I’m interested in creating something beautiful for everybody in a place where something tragic happened, that’s my personal view.”