Pow Wows Connect Native Youth with their Roots

A recent pow wow at OYA’s Tillamook facilities was one of several held in September for youth in custody.

Drumming, song, and Native American regalia filled the field inside the Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility security fence on a Saturday afternoon in early September.

Despite all the action, several audience members gazed at a spot far outside the fence.

They’d spotted a white creature — wolf-like in appearance — sitting calmly and watching the event from afar.

Eventually, the animal came all the way up to the fence and the guests identified it as a dog, possibly a Husky. Still, the symbolism of the canine’s appearance wasn’t lost on Ed Goodell, the arena director for the day’s pow wow.

Earlier, Goodell had talked about the importance of holding the pow wow outside, of connecting directly with nature and the earth.

The dog “is obviously interested in what we’re doing here today,” Goodell said to the crowd.

Goodell volunteers to help bring pow wows into Oregon Youth Authority facilities statewide.

He’s one of many in Oregon’s Native American community who have partnered with OYA to support Native youth in custody. OYA has intergovernmental relationships with all the state’s federally recognized tribes.

In addition to annual pow wows, many of the facilities offer programming such as sweat lodge ceremonies and beading groups.

All these activities are supported by OYA’s Native American program coordinators — Leslie Riggs, who is OYA’s tribal liaison; and Derwin Decker, who is based at MacLaren.

“For the Native youth, it’s really important because that’s where you find your balance in life,” Goodell said about the pow wows.

“When you take all those traditions and all those ceremonies that were given to us by the creator over generations and generations … then we have a very powerful thing to hold us in balance again as a community and as a people.”

Throughout the day, guests enjoyed dancing and drumming from a youth drum group and volunteers Debbie and Chet Clark.

They also shared a meal of salmon, squash, and fry bread. Fry bread cook Tamarro Gabbert made sure the youth knew that the bread was not traditional Native cuisine.

When Native Americans were forced off their land, she said, the government provided them with flour, sugar, and lard for food. They used these items to make fry bread, which today is a staple at many public Native American events.

“I’m here because it’s a way of giving back to these guys and teaching them a little bit of history and what it is to be a Native person here in Oregon,” Gabbert said.

“It shows these guys that we care about them, we want them to succeed, we want them to become good members of society and get out and do good things, and that it is absolutely, 100% possible.”

J., a Native American youth and one of Gabbert’s helpers at the fryer, said that he hoped to share these traditions with his own children someday.

“This helps me learn my past and what my ancestors did,” he said. “I feel more connected to my roots when I’m doing something like this.”

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Back out on the field, G., another Native youth, took turns dancing and playing drum.

He said the event made him feel more connected to his family. He has fond memories of attending pow wows with them before his incarceration.

“Spiritually, it connects me with a bunch of community members (so I can) get back out there and make positive decisions, go to fun activities like this … and do healthy activities,” G. said.

Trish Jordan, director of Red Lodge Transition Services, reiterated the idea that connecting with their Native roots can help keep youth out of trouble.

“We’re here because we want to support you,” she said to the youth. “We love you. We want you to go away from this place and do really well for yourselves and break that cycle of incarceration.”


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Pow Wow at Rogue Valley

Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass also held a pow wow in September.

Numerous community volunteers attended or helped run the event, including Tom Smith, Nick Hall, Russell Franklin, Nick Weaver, Jim Prevatt, Hannah Stafford, Andy Franklin, Alejandro Garcia, Mary Tinoco (Grandma Mary) and Steiger Butte Drum from Klamath Falls.

Four youth from the Aztec Group at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility and a group of volunteers from northern California also traveled to the event to share their cultural dances and ceremonies with the crowd.

Leslie Riggs, OYA’s tribal liaison, and Derwin Decker, Native American services coordinator at MacLaren, also attended and supported the event.

Thanks to the support and assistance of the staff at Rogue Valley, youth were able to enjoy a great pow wow that was similar to what they might experience in the community.

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