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Powwow in Heber celebrates Native American culture, brings communities together

Around 2,000 people of all ages gathered near the Jordanelle Reservoir for a weekend of dancing, singing and celebrating Native American culture at the Intermountain Championship Pow Wow.

More than 40 tribal nations from across North America were represented at this year’s powwow. Crowds gathered at River’s Edge Campground, north of Heber, on June 1 and 2 for performances and time spent in community.

On Sunday afternoon, festivities began with a flag song and a victory song as dancers processed in.

Organizer Jacob Crane said the powwow had been an annual tradition before, but it was discontinued. He said he helped restart the event because he wanted Native Americans to have a way to gather.

“The inspiration really just comes from traditional teachings of giving back to community,” he said.

He’s originally from Tsuut’ina Nation in Alberta, Canada, and he’s been living in Utah for two decades.

Here in the Wasatch Back, it’s the traditional homelands of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. Crane said he encourages people to learn whose homelands they inhabit and to support nonprofits that serve Native communities – like Cultural Fire Events, which hosted this year’s powwow.

Kassie John is the reigning Miss Indian World, a pageant whose winners help share Native American culture. At Sunday’s gathering, she told attendees to take pride in Native culture and welcomed people who were at a powwow for the first time.

“This is how we promote our traditions, our languages, our cultures,” she said. “And this is why it’s so important for us to carry on and model this way of life for our young people, because they are our future knowledge-keepers.”

Other attendees had been going to powwows all their lives, like Michelle Kipp. She said powwows are deeply valued by tribal nations – including her own, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes – in part because of the history of religious discrimination against Native people. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act wasn’t passed until 1978.

“I was a kid then. So my parents, my grandparents, it was illegal for them to practice their own beliefs,” she said. “And so powwows were a way for natives to do it kind of sneakily.”

She said powwows have also been a way for Native American communities to show pride in themselves and their families.

Kipp traveled from Montana and said she loves visiting with family, friends and former classmates.

“It brings people together,” she said. “You know, catch up, get to visit, find out who had kids and who’s a grandma or grandpa.”

As many joined in another part of the culture, the drumming contest, thousands shared song, dance and community at the campground Sunday in hopes of continuing traditions for generations to come.