31st Annual Friendship Powwow Goes Virtual This Year

The Denver Art Museum (DAM) returns with the 31st Annual Friendship Powwow. This year the powwow has switched up its delivery as it has morphed into a virtual experience due to the pandemic.

On September 12 streams will be held on the museum’s Facebook and YouTube pages from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. filled with performances from Indigenous dancers from across the country, a cooking demonstration and a behind-the-scenes look at Native American dance-related objects in the DAM’s collection from two of the museum’s curators.

In past years, the powwow was held in front of the museum with an opening ceremony from local Indigenous leaders and a Colorguard, dancing competitions, a market full of vendors and frybread stands serving hot frybread tacos.

Photo by Nick Annis

This year the Indigenous Community Advisory Council at DAM (Denver Art Museum) and the powwow committee joined together to make the decision to make the event virtual instead of canceling the event all-together due to its importance to the community and its longstanding traditions.

“Moving our powwow into a virtual format required a lot of creativity. It required consultation with internal staff to make sure we were developing a plan to kept everyone safe while also consulting with community members to make sure crucial elements of the powwow were maintained. Perhaps the biggest change was the call for dancers to submit videos of them dancing to a content song. We worked closely with our Audio Visual and Communications departments to set up a system for collecting and editing the videos. Another change was recognizing an opportunity to introduce the world to the local Indigenous community in the Front Range region, as well as to DAM’s collection,” stated Denver Art Museum’s Senior Communications Manager Shadia Lemus.

Each of the events during the powwow, and the order in which they occur, were carefully selected with the help of the Indigenous Community Advisory Council, the powwow chairperson Erlidawn Roy and the master of ceremonies Steve LaPointe for an amazing virtual experience. 

Photo by Nick Annis

As one of the largest changes to the program – dance competitions have now been completely transformed. Normally dancers would perform live in front of judges with beating drums from drum circles guiding them in the background. Now dance competitors were asked to submit videos of their dances from 14 different categories from women’s jingle, men’s grass to teen’s fancy shall for judges to examine and determine prize winners. There will also be a tiny tot category that will feature a video montage of some adorable submission highlights of itty bitty dancers.

You can also hear from local Indigenous leaders throughout the day and specifically in the opening ceremonies.

John P. Lukavic, Ph.D., and the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts at the Denver Art Museum shared his excitement to hear from local leaders, “I am most looking forward to hearing from elders in the community, especially John Emhoolah (Kiowa/Arapaho). Emhoolah has a long history of working with the Denver Art Museum and is a Korean War Combat Veteran. He holds so much respect in the Indigenous community, so it is an honor to have him share some words.”

As for the vendor market? Denver Art Museum has opened up their Facebook page and invited artists and vendors to post links of their works and goods throughout the course of the day.

Even though the powwow may not be at the foot of the museum this year, there are some silver linings – including expanding the public viewing of the event.

​”I look forward to sharing the Friendship powwow with the world, giving viewers a way to learn and connect with both the local Indigenous community and the Denver Art Museum,” stated Lukavic. 

For more information about the schedule of events check here.