By Don Lowe
In early July, the 151st Quapaw Powwow takes center stage as people come from near and far to converge on Quapaw, Oklahoma, where connecting the past to the present and preserving a rich history remains as vital as ever for this tribe of Native Americans.
Melany Shawnee, who is taking charge of all the powwow activities within the tribe following her husband’s (Mike Shawnee) untimely death earlier this year, says, “It’s a celebration of who we are as a people.
“It was originally a picnic celebrating our tribe and that we survived. We were a tiny tribe. We’re so proud of all the families that come here from California and Texas, really all over the country, to be here.”
In providing a sense of what takes place at the powwow, Shawnee says the first day (July 1) is considered “Quapaw night, and we will have specials and family songs to honor those who have passed away, as well as veterans and graduates.
“There will be songs that not a lot of people know. It will be a lot of old, traditional songs. There will also be gourd dancing. It will go to midnight or so.”
As the powwow continues with four nights that are jam-packed with wide-ranging entertainment, children take the spotlight July 2, with women’s dances July 3 and the men showing off their fancy footwork July 4.
“This year, there will be a lot of special contests held by Quapaw families,” Shawnee said. “Several different things have been added into the program.”
Shawnee believes one thing that makes this so special is getting those who are not Native Americans involved. “We ask those who are not Indians to come out and dance with us.
“They try to mimic our dances. We just love it so much. We just want this all to be so much fun for everyone at the powwow.”
Shawnee takes pride that this is such a big part of who she is today and always has been, and she says, “I grew up within a mile of the powwow grounds. My dad was tribal chairman for many years and helped to put on the powwow. Also, my uncles were powwow chairmen.
“I married within my tribe, which was important to me. And my husband became powwow chairman and was also elected to serve on the business committee. We just love to serve our people, be involved and help wherever we can.
“I learned from my great aunts how to cook our traditional foods. Also, I watched my great uncle and dad practice our traditional burial ceremonies.”
Along with all the performances that will be such a big part of the powwow all four days, there should be plenty of food trucks and lots of arts and crafts vendors helping make this an incredible celebration.
Shawnee is thrilled to be part of it all. “It makes me happy to walk through the camps and smell campfires and cedar burning. I know I’m home and it’s comforting to me.”
151st Quapaw Powwow Fast Facts
When: Saturday, July 1-Tuesday, July 4
Where: Quapaw Nation – Beaver Springs Park, 5681 & 630 Road, Quapaw, OK 74363
For More Information: Contact Melany Shawnee at [email protected]
Head Singer: JR Ross; Head Man: Derrick Shawnee; Head Lady: Julia Byrd; Emcee: Marty Thurman; Head Gourd Dancer: Chissoe Brown; Co-Arena Directors: Dennis Little Axe and Tony Shawnee; Northern Drum: Young Bear, Mandaree, ND; Host Gourd Clan: Quapaw Nation Gourd Clan
Incoming 2023 Quapaw Powwow Princess: Elaina Suzanne Shield; Outgoing 2022 Quapaw Powwow Princess: Nizhoni Tsosie-Hamilton; 2022-2023 Quapaw Nation Princess: Emma McKibben; and 2022_2023 Junior Quapaw Nation Princess: Mia Forbis
See more photos in the June 2023 print issue or on the digital edition.