It was almost midnight, just south of the Sea Lion Caves near Florence, when I saw the runner coming toward me lit brightly by the full moon. I took from him the wooden staff topped with an eagle feather and started my leg of the 234-mile, three day “Run to the Rogue” relay, which traces the route (in reverse) that Native Americans living in the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys took over 150 years ago when they were forcibly relocated to the area that is now the reservation lands of The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians.
I don't have even a drop of Native American blood, but the tribe – in appreciation of people willing to help complete the long journey (especially in the middle of the night) – were more than welcoming.
The tribe also welcomes all attendees to the two pow wow’s they hold each year. August 9 through 11 is Nesika Illahee Pow Wow in Siletz, and November 17 is the Restoration Pow Wow at the Chinook Winds Casino Resort.
“The summer pow pow is about competition,” explained Public Information Officer Dianne Rodriguez. “The restoration is more about being social and celebrating the restoration of the tribe.”
At the Nesika Illahee Pow Wow, there are plenty of vendors selling bead work, jewelry, moccasins, art and more. But the best reason to go is the dancing, if only to listen to the sound of shells and bells ringing rhythmically along with the soft landing of the feet as people dance in their highly decorated tribal wear.
And though there are few events that make a photographer drool more, there are a few rules to keep in mind to remain respectful during the ceremony.
“You really want to listen to the announcer, who will say when it’s a time you should not take photos,” Rodriguez said. “But there are other times, like during prayer, or if an eagle feather drops that you really should keep your camera put away. Just pay attention to cues, and if you see someone in particular that you want to photograph, just ask.”
I was curious about the eagle feather dropping, as I had carried one for miles during the relay, luckily keeping it off the ground.
“A dropped eagle feather represents a fallen warrior," Rodriguez explained. "There is a ceremony that takes place when it happens, so spectators should really wait respectfully until it is clear that it has been finished.”
I attended one year's summer pow wow on a Saturday, expecting to drop in for an hour. I ended up staying half the day, mixing my time between taking photos, shopping and just visiting with a few people I knew and others I was just meeting. But on Rodriguez's advice, this year I might go a bit earlier, such as on Friday, August 9.
“I like Fridays because it's not quite as busy,” she said. “People are still fresh, and I love the buzz that happens when the color guard starts moving in; there’s an amazing energy.”
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