Denver Friendship Powwow marks 30th year

Denver Art Museum event celebrates native culture, arts

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A steady beat resonated from the hide stretched out over large drums and bells on dresses jangled, giving native dancers a song as they entered the arena Sept. 7 at the 30th annual Friendship Powwow held at the Denver Art Museum.

“Arts and culture for indigenous people are so intertwined,” said John Lukavic, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts for the museum. “This is an opportunity for people to see some of that.”

Lukavic said the event is an extension of what happens inside the museum. The American Indian Collection is the largest single collection at the Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway. For a while, the museum’s identity was tied to that collection, Lukavic said.

By next year’s Friendship Powwow, the renovated Martin Building — previously the North Building — is expected to be open, according to Lukavic.

In November 2017, the north side of the Denver Art Museum campus closed to the public for major renovations. The renovated spaces will reopen in phases starting in 2020 and will include the renovated and reinstalled Northwest Coast and Alaska Native collection on the second level.

The powwow started in 1990 after the passing of Scientific and Cultural Facilities District funds for the first time, as a way of celebrating the collection and the community connected to it. Over the years, it has grown as not only an arts and culture event, but also an educational event for the broader community.

“Indigenous people are so often invisible in larger society even though they were the first people here and they never went anywhere,” Lukavic said. “So having this powwow is a great opportunity for visitors to come out and experience the vibrant culture that’s represented here.”

The free event is held the Saturday after Labor Day each year. Entrance to the museum is also always free on the day of the powwow.

“Having an event like this, it reminds the community that the native community is still around and we still have a strong culture,” said Travis Goldtooth, who is known as Buffalo Barbie. “It also helps educate people that have questions about culture differences — it bridges the communities.”

One area Buffalo Barbie, who has been dancing in powwows representing the Diné (Navajo) tribe for over 25 years, educates people on is the Two Spirit community. Two Spirit refers to Native Americans who identify as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit.

The powwow connects native individuals from not only Colorado, but throughout the United States.

It also connects generations.

“It makes us proud and happy to see the kids out here dancing,” said Tony Hedgepth, who lives in Aurora and is part of the Saponi tribe, of North Carolina. “If anything, it keeps traditions alive. It also shows the community that we’re still here, still thriving.”

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