SALAMANCA — As the Marvin “Joe” Curry Veterans Pow Wow celebrates its 30th anniversary, people will witness dancers moving in unison to the sound of jingles mixed in with chants and the beating of drums.
Held Friday through Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park, the Pow Wow honors Native American veterans and is named after Marvin “Joe” Curry, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians’ Snipe Clan, who led a long, distinguished career of military service in the United States Navy.
During the weekend, the gentle, tinkling that sounds like falling rain on a metal roof are created by metal cones attached to what is called the jingle dress.
Cassie Thomas, head female dance judge in 2013, said the jingle dress comes from the Northern Tribe Ojibewea or Chippewa, along the Canadian border.
She said the most traditional version of it is a healing dress. The sound of the jingle and the song combine to help create healing in their lodges.
Thomas said when an actual ceremony is done with the jingle dress, it’s different from what people see in competition at the Pow Wow because it’s meant for their own tribe. It’s what the dancers are willing to share with the public.
“The jingle dress started off as ‘the healing,’” she said. “The Ojibewea dancers had four main colors when they started and, I believe, they came from an area called ‘Lake of the Woods.’ The story we are told says an Ojibewea man’s daughter was sick and had this dream about women dancing and making the jingle dress. At the end of his dream, the daughter was also dancing. The legend has been passed on and gifted out to the Native American community.”
She said it started off as the healing and a side-step dance, but now it’s sometimes done in a straight dance-style. When they perform competitively, they usually do both — the straight song and the side-step.
Thomas said the cones on the dresses that make the sound are part of the healing. She said she often hears people say the dress has to have 365 cones on it, but that’s a common misconception. She said the number of cones is personal and how the dancer wants the dress to look.
“In the old-style jingle dance, they don’t turn around or dance backward. It’s just straight-forward and they’re supposed to weave like they are dancing around the problem that’s in the person’s life that they’re dancing for,” she said. “In the old-style dress, they don’t wear the large feather on the back of their head and their dresses are much more simple. In the newer, contemporary-style, the women dance backward and will often wear flashier outfits.”
According to Thomas, the dresses are made by hand and the cones get crimped on the dress one by one. She said there are all kinds of different versions of the cones. They can be ordered already made, or some people turn their own cones. Pre-turned lids from tobacco and snuff cans are often used or different kinds of metal.
Thomas said they learn the dances mostly by growing up around them, watching and being told how to do a dance as they go. She said the dancers travel and learn as they get involved.
“That’s part of what powwowing is — sharing,” she said. “We learn and watch. When somebody comes along to correct the young dancers, they explain the right way.”
She said the Pow Wow-style of dancing is from the West and it’s something the Seneca do because it’s competitive. They like to invite other Native Americans to the Senecas’ Allegany and Cattaraugus territories, so they can showcase and share how they do things differently.
Thomas said Western Native Americans dance in a different direction than Natives of the East. In the West, it’s a social dance and competitive, as opposed to strictly ceremonial. She said ceremonial practices are kept within the group and one has to be invited by someone from the main community to be a part of it.
“We leave the ceremonial songs and dances in our longhouse,” she said. “The social aspect is what people can come and watch, be a part of and try.”
Thomas said a lot of people don’t know that they dress for the Pow Wow in regalia, not costumes, and calling their regalia costumes is offensive to them.
The smoke dance is Iroquois-style and the Pow Wow-style includes all the other dances — traditional, jingle and fancy. She said the Pow Wow portion includes hundreds of dancers from tiny tots to the very elderly who dress in regalia and go out and dance.
Thomas said although she is not Ojibewea, she dances jingle. She said she also dances in traditional buckskin, which is not the Seneca way, but she still has her regalia for the Iroquois-style dancing.
“Everybody does things differently, depending on where you go,” she said. “You just have to be mindful of where you are and be respectful of everybody else’s ways. It’s really an ‘every-day, every-weekend’ lesson in tolerance.”
This year’s Pow Wow will take place at Veterans Park from Friday, July 19 to Sunday, July 21. The annual three-day event will feature a series of exhilarating dance and drum competitions, including what is billed as North America’s biggest Smoke Dance contest, with competitors coming from across the United States and Canada. Over $100,000 in prize money will be awarded.