Passing Heritage Along

The 24th Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow is about coming together…. a celebration and social gathering and exchange between different Native American tribes to preserve their culture and heritage. It is a show of respect between the generations, passing on traditions to the young people and instilling pride.
The pow wow is also a competition where warriors, maidens and youngsters dance, traditionalists sing songs of lament and victory, and drummers are the heart and heartbeat of the whole event.
All of these pieces are woven together to tell an important story of indigenous people and their preservation, who teach through example — becoming its own powerful art form in the process.
The pow wow is held annually in the Mojave Crossing Event Center across the river from the Avi Resort & Casino. This year’s event takes place on Friday-Sunday, Feb. 16-18, and is hosted by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe (the Pipa Aha Macav – “The People By The River”), owners of both the Avi and Spirit Mountain Casino in Arizona, as well as agricultural lands throughout the Tri-State Area. (NOTE: For a look at early tribal life on the Colorado River, check out the dioramas in the hallway at the south end of the Avi leading to Brenden Theaters).
By offering the general public admission to many of the events, the pow wow is an opportunity for those outside the Native American communities to peek behind the feathered curtain and view rich cultures.
The first thing that strikes many first-time visitors to a pow wow is the breadth of color and regalia….bells, feathers, beads, buckskins, and leather with many participants festooned in rainbow hued ribbons.
Pow wows are not a Mojave tradition, specifically, but they are a Native American tradition, creating an opportunity for the Mojaves and other wide-ranging tribes to meet and share their heritage, both with the public and each other. Pow wows are comprised of many components, with Mojave tradition tending to focus on the bird singing and dancing elements.
The Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow was started by Don Armstrong more than 232 years ago to coincide with the opening of the Avi casino. He has since passed so organizers keep it going in his honor, making it now a part of the tribe’s tradition.
Many an attendee has made the Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow part of their own tradition. Some of the adults who now regularly attend started out dancing as children or teenagers at this pow wow, and many make it a part of their “circuit,” meaning they attend many pow wows across the country and this is the first one on the yearly calendar they attend.
In addition to all the dancing, chanting and drums, there’s also delicious fry bread to consider. Various tribes will be selling that popular item along with other food and native crafts available at booths set up in the center.
Emcee for the event is Terry Fiddler; the arena director is Tate Honadick; and Gary Koshiway will offer the ground blessing.
The schedule of events open to the public include:

• Bird Dance Exhibition—Friday (6 p.m. AZ; 5 p.m. NV);
• Gourd Dancing—Saturday and Sunday (11 a.m. AZ; 10 a.m. NV each day);
• Grand Entry—Saturday (noon AZ; 11 a.m. NV; and 7 p.m. AZ; 6 p.m. NV), Sunday (noon AZ; 11 a.m. NV);
• Drum Sign-Up—Saturday (10 a.m. AZ; 9 a.m. NV)
• Bird Dancer Registration—Saturday (10 a.m.-4 p.m. AZ; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. NV)
• Dancer Registration—Friday (10 a.m.-5 p.m. AZ; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. NV);
• Bird Singing & Dancing Contest—Saturday (5 p.m.-7 p.m. AZ; 4 p.m.-6 p.m. NV)
Host drums to be selected at each session; all drums welcome; head staff will be selected at each session.

Gourd Dance…
According to organizers, the gourd dance is an old warriors’ dance originating from the Southern Plains. The stories tell of a warrior society, which at one time, was caretaker of all these songs. Those who were part of this society were warriors who had accomplished deeds in battles.
The all-male society had all but disintegrated when it was revived in the 1930s in Oklahoma. Today, the gourd society is composed of Native Americans who have served in the U.S. armed forces. Formerly an all-male society, female veterans have been initiated into the group in recent years.

Bird Dance…
The Bird Dance is the traditional dance of the Mojave and other Southern Arizona tribes and is used to interpret mourning and celebration. Men will play many of the Mojave traditional gourd songs and the women will dance, dressed in ribbon dresses adorned with elaborate bead work and bright shawls.

Flag song…
Nearly every tribe has its own Flag Song dedicated to the flags that are brought in during the Grand Entry. The Flag Song is sung every time the flags are brought in and every person in the arena is asked to stand and be silent during the presentation of the flags.

The Drums…
The drum is a term to describe not only an instrument, but its complement of singers or chanters. The drum is the center of attention and the driving force behind the dances and songs.
One of the most important things in the life of a Native American is the drum. Their whole culture centers around the drum. Without the drum and the singers around it, the Native Americans could not have pow wows. The drum brings the heart beat of the Earth Mother to the pow wow for all to feel and hear.
Drumming brings everyone back into balance. Whether dancing, singing, or just listening, people around the drum can connect with spirit. It is no wonder the drum should be treated with great respect.
Drums are located in the four corners of the arena with each representing a different participating tribe and alternating with the others to provide the backdrop for the contest songs, flag songs, memorial songs, intertribal songs and more.
All drums are welcome, daily play for drums and head staff will be selected at each session.

The Songs..
To the uninitiated, songs can be the most puzzling aspect of a pow wow. It is not uncommon to hear a visitor say to the performers, “I didn’t know you were singing different songs.”
To the contrary, there are literally thousands of songs and more are composed every year. Every song has its own unique characteristics and subtle effects.
There are songs written for all occasions as well as for families and individuals. Some of the most common themes are flag songs, contest songs, inter-tribals, veteran songs and quitting songs.
Contest songs, which will be plentiful during the Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow, are written to test a dancer’s skill. They often increase in speed or stop in unexpected places to help the judges determine who among the dancers is the best.
Contest songs usually are written to suit a particular dance style, such as grass or jingle dress.
Inter-tribals are the most common form of song, sung for everyone to dance to and used as all-occasion songs.

The general public can take in this unique experience because of the open public forum. Admission is $5 a day or $8 for a two-day pass with tickets available at the door (no pre sale tickets available).
For further general information or vendor information, contact pow wow director, Maria Medrano, at 760-629-4591 or 928-788-5190.
For further information, or lodging accommodations at the Avi Resort & Casino call 866-INFO AVI or 702-535-5555 or


Mojave Crossing Event Center

Friday-Sunday, Feb. 16-18
(see story for times)

$5 admission per day or $8 for 2 day pass.