ELKO – The elders slowly progressed across the gymnasium, carrying the American and Te-Moak Tribe flags above their feathered headdresses before stopping in the center of the floor of the Elko Indian Colony Gym.
The beating of the drums continued as the rest of the Elko Band Pow-Wow dancers, both young and old, followed behind the color guard, which then started to circle the auditorium.
The procession was part of the event’s grand entry last weekend as the Elko Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone hosted its annual Pow-Wow.
For many Native Americans, the Pow-Wow is an opportunity to unite the generations by respecting the elders and supporting the youth.
“I’ve seen some (Native American) dancing before, but this is my first Pow-Wow,” spectator Beth Carpel said.
“The dancing is so mesmerizing, and I love seeing people of all ages, all generations, dancing together.”
Shirley Reeder of Logan, Utah, has been attending the Pow-Wow with her husband and children for 17 years. She said it’s a chance to reflect on family and friends.
“Elko gives us a chance to relax from the summer,” she said. “I like it here because everybody just wants to have fun and dance.”
But there’s more to a Pow-Wow than dancing.
“Everyone in that circle is thinking about someone or are thinking of ways to improve themselves,” Reeder said, gesturing toward the circle of dancers encompassing the gym.
“When you’re in the circle, it represents eternity to me. It’s sacred. That’s why you sweat (while dancing) – you’re giving up something for the person you’re thinking about.”
Many of the dancers had been to the Elko Band Pow-Wow before, but others were experiencing the Elko event for the first time.
For newcomer Bernard A. Baga, the Pow-Wow felt like home.
“It feels good to dance around for my people here, even if they don’t know me,” said Baga, who is from Southern California, but has a distant history with the Native American community in Elko.
“My mom’s people are from Ruby Valley, so I’m half-Shoshoni,” he said. “I went to high school here and it feels good to be back. I’ve been gone a long time.”
As the grand entry ceremony continued, the body of dancers transformed into a living, turning swirl of colors responding to the bass of the beating drums.
Young children in headbands blurred into bright multicolored streaks alongside their elders covered in feathers.
The Pow-Wow took on the pace of a beating heart, expressing the joy and vibrancy of life.
“We are still here,” Spiritual Leader Gonnie Mendez chanted during the ceremony. “We are still here. We are still here in the 21st century to continue the traditions of our people.”