The Black Hills Powwow Association has a simple message: "Come dance with us."
It's more than the theme for the 33rd annual event, according to association president Stephen Yellowhawk. It's a mission statement.
"Our powwow is open to the entire community, to the entire world," he said. "We always want everyone to feel welcome."
This year's wacipi — the Lakota word for powwow — is Oct. 11-13 at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City. One of the largest powwows in the region, the three-day event will draw competitive dancers from the United States and Canada.
It starts at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 11, with a youth symposium. Yellowhawk said 4,000 students from Rapid City Area Schools will go to the Civic Center for "powwow 101." Event organizers will explain the different dance styles, and have dancers from each category perform Native songs and dances.
Johnny Rodgers, who won the Heisman trophy in 1972 after helping the Nebraska Cornhuskers win its first national football title in school history, will speak to the students about teamwork. There was no symposium last year due to a lack of funding, and Yellowhawk is excited for the event to return.
"We felt it needed to come back because it just didn’t feel the same last year," he said. "It just ... brings so much good energy."
At the powwow, there are dancing and singing contests. Winners receive cash prizes — the overall singing champion, for instance, wins $10,000. Other activities through the weekend include intertribal dances, which are open to everyone; the 2019-2020 Miss He Sapa Win crowning ceremony; a 3-D archery shoot, poetry slam and special music. About 100 vendors and informational booths will be in the Civic Center.
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There are four grand entries throughout the weekend, with the first one starting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11. For the grand entry, all dancers competing in all categories enter the arena at the same time and are judged.
There are 36 categories within six age groups — juniors, teens, junior adult, senior adult, golden age and platinum age. Yellowhawk said there are more than 1,000 dancers every year, though not everyone competes.
Admission for a three-day pass is $28 for ages 13-64 and $18 for 4-12, $22 for a group pass of 25 people or more. A one-day pass is $15 for ages 13-16 and $9 for 4-12; people under 4 or over 65 get in free. For a complete schedule of events, visit blackhillspowwow.com/schedule or call 341-0925.
Yellowhawk has been on the powwow board of directors for 10 years, but his history with the powwow goes back much further. It's the first powwow he danced in as a youth, and as an adult he often danced with his grandfather, uncle and brother.
"It means so much to me that we're able to have this every year," he said.
For those who have never been to a powwow, Yellowhawk said he has two masters of ceremonies (eyapahas) who explain every aspect of the event. They explain what songs are playing, what the dances are, when people should stand, and other aspects of etiquette and culture. If people want to take photos of the dancers, they should ask the dancer, he said.
And, when in doubt, Yellowhawk said if newcomers have questions — just ask.
"Most of the people that are there are really generous with their time," he said. "We want to have that inviting atmosphere."