September 2023
Family, Friends, Celebration and Joy
Prescott Powwow Sept. 15-17 at Watson Lake Park

The annual Prescott Powwow is back as a celebration of community and culture. The three-day gathering at Watson Lake Park brings together family and friends to dance, sing, share and heal in a spirit of togetherness and fun.

Anticipating attendance of more than 3,000 people, Manuel Lucero IV, director of Prescott’s Museum of Indigenous People, is heading the organizing committee again this year. “Once the drums get going, my anxiety level drops a whole lot. It’ll be good.”

What’s a Powwow?

As an educator and lifetime participant, Lucero is happy to explain. “‘Powwow’ is actually an Algonquin word that references a holy person, like a medicine man or traditional healer. This came about when early colonists came across a gathering when a medicine man was making a prayer, and asked ‘what is this?’ and the translator says, ‘powwow,’ and the colonists say, ‘okay, well this is a Powwow.’ As the English language spread across the continent, the rest of us indigenous people took that word to mean the gathering.

“Powwows themselves are a relatively contemporary thing, but we used to have gatherings like this all the time, where other tribes would come, and we’d celebrate and dance, stories are exchanged, dances are exchanged, medicine is exchanged, intermarriages, everything that human beings do; as far as being traditional like that, you bet.

But Powwow as we know it today is a much more contemporary thing. Take the Grand Entry, for example, we actually got that from rodeo parades, it’s part of Western culture. Our Powwow, being a social gathering rather than a contest gathering, is more like those traditional gatherings than what you’ll usually get today.”

An important function of Powwow is the reinforcement of values and traditions that are easily obscured among the distractions of contemporary life. Lucero says that it has been central to bringing young people back to awareness of and pride in their culture. Reinforcing that idea is the event's theme, “Elders Embracing the Youth to Carry On the Traditions of Native Culture.”

It’s the people

I asked Lucero what’s different about organizing Powwow, relative to other large public events. “It’s the people,” he responded. “Powwow seems, to me, so in my element — I wouldn't call it second nature, I’d say it’s first nature — I know how it should flow, and so do all the people, all the dancers and drummers, we all know what to expect. Most of us have been doing this our whole lives. “I think the sharing and educating people about contemporary Native culture is also different from just going to have fun. This is a gathering where there’s last year shared, there are tears shared, there are hugs, there’s food — oh God, the food! — I don’t care what culture you're from, food is where it’s at! You’ve got happy bellies, you’ve got happy people.”

Not a show

While encouraging everyone to come and participate, Lucero emphasizes that Powwow is fundamentally different from other kinds of events. “You are welcome, but this is for us. You’re at a Native gathering. This is not a show for your benefit.”

“The thing to remember is, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ Don't go out there doing your own thing; do what you see other people doing when you’re in the dance arena. It isn’t about individualism, it’s about respect for one another and being together in that circle.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you sit and listen, take it in, the better the experience you’ll have.”

Everyone belongs

“This event is specifically for sharing. During Powwow we have many of what we call ‘intertribals,’ where everyone from every tribe goes out and dances at the same time to the same song. The big drums are like a heartbeat, and they say that when you’re out there in that circle, listening to those drums, your heart starts to beat along with the rhythm. And when everybody is in it together, hearts all beating in rhythm with the heartbeat of Mother Earth, the drums, that’s a powerful thing too.

"Intertribal" means everyone. All human beings are tribal people. If you look back far enough in your own heritage, whatever your background, you come from tribal people. The medicine wheel is red, yellow, black and white, just like us, everybody belongs in that circle.” Events are open to the public with no charge for admission. For up-to-date information on the event schedule, vendors, sponsors and Powwow etiquette, visit

Photos courtesy Manuel Lucero.

Steven Ayres is Editor of 5enses.

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