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Black Hills Powwow: A Kaleidoscope of Color

Kris, a South Dakota native, regularly travels from coast to coast in pursuit of the next creative endeavor but always returns to the Black Hills to enjoy the solitude and beauty that is hardly rivaled by other areas of the country. 

September 05, 2019

In early October, I had the privilege of attending the Black Hills Powwow. The Monument (formerly known as the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center) hosted hundreds of dancers, singers, artisans and athletes from our region. This experience was rich with culture and enlightening to witness what dance means to the Native American Culture.

As I walked into the powwow, the air outside felt like a normal day with another event hosted by The Monument, with its full parking lot and people all over the place. Upon entering the building, everything changed. I was surrounded by an endless variety of color; I had to step aside for a minute and take in the spectacle. The jingle dresses, feathered headdresses, and an assortment of other regalia is merely a glimpse at the extensive culture being celebrated through this event.

Singers performing at the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City


From the entrance, I journeyed around the arena, taking in rows of traditional drum groups and listening to the Lead Singers prepping their singers. Observing bleachers filled with families and spectators supporting the art and culture that surrounds them and passing vendor booths in the surrounding halls. Then it was time to enjoy the Grand March. Flags from many nations were held high by tribal leaders and members of our United States military in uniform; everyone watched with respect and pride.

Dancers performing at the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City


Dancers come to this event from Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota, and some might come from farther still. Having traveled around the Midwest to photograph various powwows and other cultural events, I was able to reacquaint myself with many familiar faces. Most dancers at The Black Hills Powwow were winners from regional dances, so everyone who participates is already a winner, this event was truly filled with some of the best.

Dancer performing at the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City


From the youth jingle dress dancers to the elders, these beautiful performers go round and round for all to see. At one end the MC guides a team of judges throughout the duration of the multi-day event. The judges watch from different vantage points and amongst the dancers, one category and style of dance after another. Selecting the dancers that stand out, judges award individuals as the day goes on.

After enjoying the kaleidoscope of color, I said farewell to the families I knew and am looking forward to seeing them again next year. If you miss this year, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s event. When you go, make sure you share your experience on social media!

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