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Building Community and Bridging Cultural Divides Through Pow Wow Traditions in Sheridan, Wyoming

November 21, 2022 | Building Community and Bridging Cultural Divides Through Pow Wow Traditions in Sheridan, Wyoming | By: Zoila Perry, Executive Director at Downtown Sheridan Association
Tribal members of the Crow Nation perform traditional ceremonial dances to celebrate and share their heritage at the First People’s Pow Wow in Sheridan, Wyoming. Courtesy of Carter Wells, DYT Creative Marketing Solutions.

As far back as 1953, Sheridan, Wyoming was host to All American Indian days, which highlighted the Miss Indian America Pageant and included contestants from all areas of the United States. These events came at a critical time in our country’s history, and helped to build cultural bridges between the Native America and non-Native Sheridan communities, as well as visitors who came to take part in the incredible cultural festivities. While All American Indian Days and the Miss Indian America pageant nearly disappeared around 1989, several patrons in the Sheridan community have worked diligently to revive this important part of our history and heritage.

In 2013, the First People’s Pow Wow became a part of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo week festivities that occur here each year in July. Since its inception in 1931, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo is one of the top rodeo events in the United States, bringing locals and visitors from all around the world. The event has evolved throughout the years, taking place in various locations, and being organized by a number of organizations. In a continued effort to keep the Pow Wow traditions alive, the Downtown Sheridan Association (DSA) began managing the event in 2018. DSA formed a committee that consisted of members from the Crow Tribe as well as DSA staff and volunteers.

Currently, the First People’s Pow Wow is made up of Crow Nation tribe members from the Crow Indian Reservation. Crow Tribe members have an incredible presence in the annual Sheridan WYO Rodeo Parade: on Rodeo Friday their attendance includes warriors on horseback and outriders at their sides. Following the parade, the Pow Wow kicks off on the lawn of the Historic Sheridan Inn with the Crow tribe members dressed in full traditional regalia, ready to dance.

The traditional Pow Wow officially begins with the drummers and is led by a Veteran Crow member in order to continue the tradition of honoring the warriors that have gone to war to protect their land and country. As stated by tribal elder and historian, Leonard Bends, “The drums are the heartbeat of earth – they start all the activity for the children of mother earth. We are the children of mother earth.” Guided by the beat of the drums, the Crow dancers participate in traditional dances, each portraying how they feel and connect to the earth.

After two years on hiatus (due to the pandemic), the Pow Wow returned this past summer, attracting a high number of spectators and local Native Americans ready to show their love for the traditional, sacred dance. The annual event brings American Indian culture and heritage both to our community and to visitors traveling to spend time at the WYO Rodeo. The Pow Wow makes a meaningful difference and impacts the lives of the Native American families who participate in the event, while continuing to bridge cultural divides – creating a genuine understanding and appreciation for the First People.