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Since 1984, the heritage of American Indians has been celebrated in Denver every year at the Denver March Powwow, one of the largest events of its kind in the country.
The Denver March Powwow features more than 1,500 dancers from close to 100 tribes from 38 states and three Canadian provinces.
The three-day event takes place in late March, in the Denver Coliseum and is packed with singing, dancing, storytelling, food and art.
The modern powwow is a time for Native American peoples to come together to sing and dance, and to honor the heritage that has been passed down to them from their ancestors. The word comes from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning "spiritual leader."
Dancing is perhaps the central activity during a powwow. American Indian dancing is a highly individualized activity, pursued in a group, with each dancer moving independently to the beat of the drum. Dance styles are derived from traditional dances of various tribes, but are not specific to any tribe — and creativity is allowed! Dance regalia is elaborate and colorful, varying on the style of dance.
Traditional dancing was originally a form of storytelling, where warriors acted out deeds committed during a battle or a hunt. Male dancers wear headdresses, referred to as a roach, on their head. The roaches are made with porcupine and deer hair woven together with eagle feathers worn on top. Bone breastplates, eagle feather bustles, beaded armbands, chokers made of animal bones and anklets of angora fur with large bells are some of the finishing touches.
Each session of the Denver March Powwow begins with the colorful and stirring Grand Entry. It kicks off with the HeartBeat drum group singing the committee's song, "A Living Hoop." Following them is an eagle staff and American Indian nation and other flags. Once everyone is in the dance arena and with the spectators still standing, the flags are raised to the accompaniment of a flag song. This is followed by a song honoring veterans — the Victory Dance. There are two Grand Entries on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday.
The Powwow spirit is an inclusive one, and attendees can get in on the action during the Intertribal Dance, featuring all the different styles of Powwow dancers and all different age groups dancing together. During these dances, men and women of all age groups, dancing all styles, join together on the floor to the beat of a hundred drums in an unforgettable, swirling sight of color.
The Jingle Dress Dance is another popular competition, although actual ceremonial jingle dances are not performed in public. In this woman's dance, the dress is covered with dozens of silver bell-like "jingles" that make a distinctive and pleasing sound, especially when the dance floor is covered with women wearing this melodic dress.
In addition to dance, you can also listen to storytellers at the top of every hour, as they share the legends and legacies of America's indigenous people.
At the Denver March Powwow, there are more than 170 booths selling a variety of Native American artworks and products. Browse jewelry and blankets, pottery and beadwork from some of the nation's most skilled Indian craftsman. Try Native American foods such as fry bread and Indian tacos, or buy an authentic Cheyenne arrow or a Sioux Tomahawk. The Denver March Powwow is a welcoming glimpse into a fascinating part of North American culture.