Sunday's opening of Gathering of Tribes Pow-Wow 2000 began with the fall of an eagle feather.
The feather symbolized the motive behind the pow-wow: the honoring of veterans. Dropping the feather to the earth mimed the sacrifice veterans make for their country.
The prayer by Cy Peck Jr. emphasized the cultural center of the two-day event at Juneau-Douglas High School: "Thank you for our lives. Thank you for the beautiful people here today. Thank you for the dream behind this event. Thank you for our elders, and let doctors keep them alive for another day so that they can make our culture stronger," Peck said.
Then dancing and drumming began in earnest, with special dances for children, for audience participation and for veterans.
"I live here and want to know more about Native gatherings," said Aldona Kouremetis, as she used two cameras to record the dancers.
"I come to these all the time," said S.J. Stevens, 67, a retired civil engineer who tapped his feet as he watched. "I appreciate the culture and go to all the pow-wows down south that I can."
"It's very enjoyable - a lot of fun. I particularly enjoy the little ones," said Ethel Lund, with a nod toward the four- and five-year-olds twirling around the school auditorium.
The third annual pow-wow was organized by Garfield Katasse and Cody Greyeyes and attracted Native song and dance groups from Alaska and elsewhere.
Southern Cree drummers provided the beat and much of the soaring vocalization on Sunday afternoon. Spokesman Harlan Baker, an emergency medical technician from Havre, Mont., said the group has been performing for seven years.
"We travel extensively in Canada and the U.S.," Baker said. Their season is February to the end of September. The rest of the year, the younger drummers attend college.
Their Northern contemporary style music requires regular swigs from quarts of spring water. Although they take turns leading, performing still takes its toll. "If you are singing constantly, your voice can go in three hours," Baker said.
One of Sunday's biggest hits was the Yupik "Seal Hunting Song" performed by Mt. Edgecumbe High School students from Sitka. Typically, this dance shows hunters paddling their kayaks, harpooning their prey and reeling it in. But this version animated itself with a seal on an ice floe hopping and spy-hopping - strenuous, demanding moves.
New to local eyes were the outfits of brothers Mike and Gil Valencia, Osage straight dancers. Mike, 33, lives in Anchorage, while Gil, 32, resides in Soldotna. This was the first trip of their troupe, the Chae-Do (Buffalo) Dancers, to Juneau.
Both wore hair plates ornamental bands dangling down their backs originally displaying scalps, now showing shining conchos. The bands should "drape the floor, or touch the floor, especially when you bend your knees," Mike Valencia said. Gil wore a river otter hat, head gear reserved for relatives of Osage chiefs.
Other regalia included beadwork worn (and executed) by Kishey-pisim ("Great Moon") Baker, wife of Harlan Baker of the Southern Cree drummers. Kishey-pisim is Ahtahkakoop Cree from Northern Saskatchewan. Her red dress was set off with a broad, yellow beaded belt, and beading dangling from the belt that included a knife sheath and a record of tribal trails -- "the family life line."
This was her day outfit. For evening, she dons a fully beaded dress and accouterments. Counting beaded hair ties, bracelets and barrette, the regalia weighs 57 pounds.
"Alaska has been good to us," Gilbert Blacksmith of Oakland, Calif., remarked as the afternoon wore on. "They have treated us with respect and dignity, and that's what we love."
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