It's a scene that has changed little since the U.S. Army drove American Indians from the Boise area and onto reservations in the 1870s.
The Intertribal Christmas Social Powwow on Saturday brought more than a hundred American Indian dancers, singers, drummers and craftspersons from seven Northwest tribes as well as Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.The powwow was sponsored by the Painted Horse War Dance Society, a new group whose aim is to promote American Indian culture and spirituality in Boise.
"The Native American people have a lot of beautiful things to show," said John James, president of the dance society. "We have never tried to communicate with the white world, but now it's time to do that. If we have this annually, it will be huge in three years."
Dozens of men, women and children danced in large circles, groups and in line, some with eyes closed as if in a trance.
Many wore original costumes with colorful arrangements of feathers, fur, beads and bells. Meanwhile, drummers and singers gathered around large skin drums, beating out a steady rhythm under a chorus of chants.
A performer said powwows develop both individual and community identity among American Indians.
"It brings you down into your inner spirituality," said dancer Rosphine Coby. "It also helps me to build on my own individual identity, to bring me back into focus."
Powwows also serve a larger external function, Coby said.
"It gives us a sense of gathering, of people coming together for friendship and to relive the traditional past and heritage," she said. "The tribes have been here for hundreds of years. This is our home and part of our pride."