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Culture, tradition, honor highlight annual Tribal Fair and Pow Wow

HOLLYWOOD — Ancient traditions met the thoroughly modern world at the Seminole Tribal Fair and Pow Wow from Feb. 7 to Feb. 9 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood.

The 49th annual celebration focused on Native American art, culture, dance and tradition even though it occurred in the most modern hotel around, complete with its iconic guitar shape.

But not a guitar was heard as the dancing and drumming filled the Seminole Ballroom during the pow wow competitions.

Tribal Fair participants and guests line up to shake hands with Seminole veteran Stephen Bowers, who was honored in a special ceremony at the Seminole Tribal Fair and Pow Wow on Feb. 7 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

About 300 dancers and 14 drum groups competed for a piece of the prize money as they donned colorful regalia, replete with feathers, beads and ribbons, and showed off their skills to the judges. They came from all over the U.S. and Canada.

“I’ve been dancing since I can remember,” said Duane Whitehorse, 72, a Southern Straight dancer from the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. “My mama danced when she was pregnant with me. It’s our heritage, our culture, it’s who we are. I dance at traditional and contest pow wows; I’ll dance anywhere.”

Each day began with a grand entry led by the Lakota Women Warriors color guard, Tribal dignitaries, Seminole and other tribes’ royalty, celebrities and a slew of dancers moving in an ever tightening circle to the steady beat of the drums.

It is easy to see why dancers say dancing is like prayer in this photo during the Seminole Tribal Fair and Pow Wow. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Rylan Baker, a fancy dancer from the Three Affiliated Tribes also known as the MHA Nation in North Dakota, has been dancing since he was two years old.

“I go to about 20 or 30 pow wows a year,” he said. “It’s like a family away from family.”

Drum groups filled the perimeter of the floor and dancers of every type danced as the drum groups took turns competing. As the sound of the drums filled the space, it appeared difficult for any dancer not to take to the floor.

These golden age women, age 55 and above, don’t miss a beat as they compete in the fancy shawl competition. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“I love the feeling I get when I dance,” said Ashley Baker, of Oklahoma, a Southern Buckskin dancer from the Comanche and Sac & Fox nations. “It’s fulfilling. It feels good to represent my tribe and my family.”

Baker took third place in the junior/adult (18-35) category.

The two emcees, Juaquin Hamilton and Howard Thomson, kept the energy high and the competitions and group dances lively with their running commentary.

“A pow wow is a social gathering for people to come celebrate life through song and dance,” said Hamilton, of Oklahoma, from the Sac & Fox Nation.

“The ancient dances and songs are from the 1800s and are being represented by different tribes here. The Seminoles are celebrating with their Native relatives from Indian Country.”

President Mitchell Cypress waves to the crowd during the first grand entry Feb. 7 as Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank, Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress, Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Aubee Billie, Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger and Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie applaud. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Dancing is more than just a way to stay fit and healthy; it also has a spiritual component to it.

“When you dance, it’s part of your prayer,” said Kenny McClure, 74, of Montana, from the Bitterroot Salish Tribe of the Flathead Nation. “You dance for people who can’t dance, are incarcerated or on drugs or alcohol.”

Some dance even though they are ailing or recovering. Alanna Baker, of North Dakota, from the Saskatchewan Cree Nation, recently had a double lung transplant.

“She came to dance anyway,” said her friend Elise Wuttnee, also from the Saskatchewan Cree Nation. “Now that’s a warrior.”

Wanda Bowers, at right, rewards this adorable toddler for dancing during the tiny tot event. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Seminoles were a major part of the Pow Wow’s special honors on the first evening.

Stephen Bowers and Cheyenne Kippenberger were recognized in separate honor dance ceremonies.

Bowers, a veteran who served in Vietnam in 1969-1970 with the U.S. Army, 173rd Airborne Brigade, was joined by his wife Elizabeth, sister Wanda and several other family members and friends as they made their way around the floor of the Pow Wow while the beats of an honor song thundered from the drummers.

Hamilton highlighted Bowers’ career during and after his military service.

He’s worked for the Tribe for more than 40 years and formed the Seminole Tribal Color Guard with Paul Bowers and Mitchell Cypress.

This is one of 14 drum groups which competed at the Pow Wow on Feb. 7. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

He serves as president of the Florida Seminole Veterans Foundation and is the chapter 23 president for the Vietnam Veterans of America.

He’s been at the forefront of establishing a Native American veterans memorial in Washington D.C., a decade-old pursuit that will come to fruition this Veterans Day when the memorial is dedicated at the National Museum of the American Indian.

“He’s one of the nicest, respectable gentleman I’ve ever met in Indian Country,” Hamilton told the audience.

Kippenberger was recognized for winning the Miss Indian World crown last year and the service she’s done since being crowned. She sponsored the Pow Wow’s lively sweetheart dance.

Alanna Baker, center, talks to friends, including Elise Wuttnee, right, during a break in the dancing. Despite recently having a double lung transplant, Baker came to dance anyway. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Despite the pageantry on the dance floor, the weekend wasn’t just about the dancing and drumming.

A full house of 74 vendors from Seminoles to others from around Indian Country displayed and sold art, crafts, jewelry, blankets, beadwork and more to an eager crowd of shoppers.

Perhaps Cody Coe, of South Dakota, from the Dakota Sioux and Northern Ute tribes, summed up the weekend best.

“It’s good to be around other Native Americans other than your own people,” said Coe, a chicken dancer. “It’s good to see all the colors of mankind joined together.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at