By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Even though he wasn’t dancing at the time, 13-year-old Jayce Old Coyote was still drawing a small crowd of photographers Saturday during a break in the action at the 32nd Annual Plains Indian Pow Wow.
A group of spectators were snapping pictures of Old Coyote’s visually striking outfit as he caught his breath following the Grand Entry. He took their sudden interest in stride, politely posing for shot after shot.
“I’ve been pow-wowing ever since I could walk,” said Old Coyote, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe from Ethete, Wyo., on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Old Coyote was one of more than 100 participants who were dancing, drumming and singing this weekend in an event that features traditional attire and a dizzying display of color and sound unlike any other cultural showcase in the West.
“This is like history in motion,” said Rebecca West, assistant curator of the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which sponsored the event.
Though some of the clothing includes bright, modern colors, the outfits, dances, songs and other customs in a modern pow wow have their origins in traditional Plains Indian cultures that were based on life in a male warrior society, West said.
“This is like no other event in Cody, and it’s very open and accessible for anyone who wants to attend,” West said.
The weekend gathering coincided with the opening of a new gallery at the center that will showcase items from the Paul Dyck Plains Indian Buffalo Culture Collection, a treasury of more than 2,000 artifacts ranging from rare and exceptional war shirts to everyday hide scrapers.
Many of the items date from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, which not only makes them less commonplace, but also fills in gaps in the museum’s collection, said Anne Marie Shriver, a research associate who has handled the exhaustive task of cataloging what is widely considered to be one of the world’s most extensive privately-held compilations of Plains Indian pieces.
About 80 items went on display Friday, and the first viewers were “overwhelmed,” Shriver said. A traveling exhibit will share select items during a 2015 tour.
“I think it’s just spectacular,” said Rosie Donahue, who viewed the collection on Friday before attending the pow wow Saturday.
Visiting friends and family in Cody from her home in Boston, Donahue said she was impressed with the near-pristine condition of many of the items, and appreciated the exhibit’s interpretive displays, which helped put items in the context of daily life for Plains Indians from centuries past.
Donahue said she was equally impressed with the pow wow, and was intrigued by the social aspect of such events, where dancers see old friends and fellow participants as part of an annual circuit of that runs throughout the year.
Some winter pow wows are held in high school gyms and other community venues, said Old Coyote, who participates in dozens each year. During the school year, he cuts back on traveling to pow wows to make time for baseball, basketball, football and hockey.
Old Coyote performs a traditional dance that mimics the prairie chicken.
“I’m dancing for the people who can’t dance, and also just to get some things off my chest,” he said.
“We go somewhere almost every weekend,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter where, because everywhere you go, you meet new people.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].