Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nephew and the Drum...

Each year, over the Labor Day weekend, the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma hold a grand powwow at Colony, OK, which is about 70 miles southeast of Hammon. Native Americans from all over Oklahoma and from outside the state attend the powwow. The three-day event is festive time for all involved. Last Sunday, I preached a short sermon at my church in Watonga and dismissed the congregation early. I and several members of my church went to Colony to enjoy the festivities of the annual Labor Day Powwow. Colony is 65 miles south southwest of Watonga.

I arrived at the powwow grounds, located in the south edge of the small town, at about 2:30pm. I sat my powwow chair up next to a 5 year-old girl named Cedar. She was sitting with her grandmother and a lady from Hammon. She was in her dance contest dress and was about as beautiful as a little Cheyenne maiden could possibly be. Cedar saw my camera and wanted me to take her photo. I agreed and here is the result. Immediately after I had taken her photo, she wanted to take my photograph. Again, I agreed, persuading her grandmother and my friend, Carol Whiteskunk (standing to my right), from Hammon to stand beside me.

About eight years ago, I acquired a nice powwow drum. It was made by Cheyenne & Arapaho drummaker, Malcolm Whitebird, who lives at Greenfield, OK. The drum is made of buffalo hide and native cedar.

The drum was ceremonially blessed by my friend, Moses Starr, who is a prominent elder in the Southern Cheyenne tribe. It was first used at a Cheyenne & Arapaho graduation ceremony at the Lodge in the Roman Nose State Park. I kept the drum as an amusement item next to a bookshelf near my computer.

Three months ago, my nephew, Kendall Kauley, called and asked if he could borrow the drum for a benefit dance at which he was serving as head singer. One does not refuse a request from a nephew and I didn't refuse.

Kendall has been drumming and singing for several years now. He recently formed a group of singers from Hammon and is now singing at powwows all over western Oklahoma. The group is known simply as, Red Moon. There's a story behind the name of Kendall's singers. In the Cheyenne dialect, Hammon is known as Red Moon (Ese'hòhma'åhevêno).

The name emanates from Chief Red Moon, who was the chief of a small band of Cheyenne that settled on land located about 6 miles northeast of the town of Hammon. Red Moon took his people to the location after the passage of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. Non-Indian settlers came to the area to establish homes and businesses during the Cheyenne-Arapaho land opening on April 19, 1892. Thus, the Red Moon and his village antedated the settling of the town of Hammon.

The Red Moon singers joined seven other drum groups at the Colony Powwow. Typically during powwows, drum groups rotate singing and drumming for dances and dance contests. In large arenas such as the one at Colony, there is ample space for the drummers to set up their drums around the interior perimeter of the dancing arena. Traditionally during dances, there is main group of drummers & singers who sing from the center of the arena. The head singer of the group working from the center is the head singer for the entire powwow. Drum groups typically rotate singing for dances. During the course of the powwow, groups working from the side will be invited to set up their drums in the center and sing for a few dances from that position.

The arena is managed by a head MC, who calls on groups to lead in singing and drumming for dancers. During dance contests, the drum groups rotate singing and drumming for the multitude of dance contests. And there are many contests with some fairly large monetary prizes offered to winners. While the focus is mainly on the dancers, no Native American dance would be complete without the singers and the drums.

On Sunday night of the Colony powwow, there was drum group contest. They were competing for a $2,500.00 cash prize. Competition was intense. During the competition, I joined Kendall's sister, Brenda, and her husband who were sitting behind the Red Moon drummers. The duration of the contest was about two hours. Red Moon went first. Of course, I was highly prejudiced. My drum and my nephew leading the way, joined by eight Hammonites, were sounding heavenly. The contest concluded at about 1:00am. After waiting for about 45 minutes for the judges to get their heads together, I decided to get on the road back to Enid. I left the powwow grounds without learning who had won the contest.

Late the next morning I emailed Kendall's cousin, Carol Whiteskunk (pictured above), and inquired who had won. She emailed back and reported that the Red Moon drummers had won the cash prize. Later that day, Kendall's sister called and reported the same results with an additional bit of information, which was the Red Moon drummers and another group tied for first place. The two drum groups went at it again for a one song drum/singoff. The Red Moon group won the singoff by a single point!

Needless to say, I was very, very proud. And Kendall gets to keep the entire prize to share with his fellow drummers. I commissioned him to be permanent caretaker for the drum. Better to let my nephew keep and use the drum than to have it sitting around my house gathering dust as a curiosity item...


Addendum: In January, I gave the drum to Kendall...

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