It was during my first week in Cody, Wyoming, that I was thrown into a world of feathers, dancing, and jingles. I began my art conservation internship at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in mid-June 2014. That weekend was the annual Plains Indian Museum Powwow. I had heard of powwows before and had seen a few watered-down versions on my college campus, but nothing could have prepared me for the event that I witnessed.
From the announcers area, you could feel the beating of the drum circles in your chest and you marveled as the multicolored regalia of the dancers flashed before you. There was one young man in particular that caught the eyes of my fellow interns and I. During the opening ceremonies, while the other participants danced with zeal, he appeared to saunter around the circle as if he alone was above it all. He wore dark sunglasses and was chewing a piece of gum while dressed in his fancy dancer regalia of yellow and red. For this nonchalant air that he carried, we dubbed him “Too Cool.” While he may have appeared lofty, his skills as a dancer certainty qualified his attitude. There was no other dancer that appeared to have as much passion and intensity as this young man. It was no surprise then, when he took the first prize in his dance category.
While we enjoyed watching “Too Cool” and the other dancers, the Powwow provided much more than entertainment; it opened a door into a culture that I was not overly familiar with. I was able to witness an integral part of the culture and history of various Native American tribes. This extended from the dancing and music, to the food and vendor stalls. This was the very first time that I tried fry bread. If you have never had it before, then I would highly suggest it. The only thing to which I could even compare it would be funnel cake. I believe that during the two day festivities I consumed an “Indian taco,” or fry bread taco, for at least three meals. They were delicious!
Food is always a wonderful way in which to experience a culture. It was the people however, that were the best part of the entire experience. The dancers were more than happy to talk with us on various occasions. As the curious art people we are, we were filled with questions. They were more than patient and understanding, and even seemed to enjoy educating us on the meaning of their regalia, dances, and history. It was this open communication and sharing of knowledge that made the Powwow the best welcome I could have received in Cody. It allowed for me to see what type of institution the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is, and how they actively live their mission to “educate and entertain worldwide audiences about the past, present, and future of the American West.”