Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 29, 2000 - Issue 15

The Mane Event
Horses Help Define Coeur d'Alene Tribe's Powwow
by Julie Titone, staff writer Spokane Net

A mile from camp, the warriors would stop, send a messenger ahead, then prepare themselves for homecoming.

"When they came riding in, they'd be in their finest," Dave Matheson said of his Native American ancestors. "They'd war-whoop. The drummers would start, and the singers."

The history on horseback will be re-created four times at the Julyamsh powwow held by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. The grand-entry parade sets the Coeur d'Alene powwow apart from hundreds of other Native American celebrations.

"As far as I know, it's the only one in the country," said Matheson, the avid horseman behind the colorful ceremony.

Up to 22 riders in full regalia will prance into the Coeur d'Alene Greyhound Park arena.

Matheson, who is chairman of the powwow and chief executive officer of the tribe's gaming operations, will enter the arena first. He'll represent the runner sent ahead with news of the returning braves.

Riders from the Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce and Spokane tribes will arrivein time to prepare themselves and paint their horses. One traditional symbol is the lightning bolt painted on shoulders and front legs. That signifies speed, Matheson said. A circle around the eye means the horse has keen senses, good vision.

Symbols on the hindquarters of a warrior's horse indicated success in battle, Matheson explained. A hand print meant an enemy killed; a line meant the brave had counted coup -- that is, touched the enemy.

"If you saw lots of lines and lots of handprints, you knew you were with a pretty tough dude," said Matheson.

Horses were brought to this region in the 1700s, having been introduced to the West by Spanish explorers. The effect on tribes was so significant that Matheson compares it to the arrival of electricity.

It's especially important for Indian children to understand how important horses were to their ancestors, said powwow director Cliff SiJohn. "They weren't Conoco Indians. They didn't pull in, fill up the gas and off they'd go."

The presence of horses at the powwow has special significance because of its location, SiJohn said. In 1858, not far to the west, federal troops slaughtered 800 horses belonging to the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane Indians.

Riders from both of those tribes, as well as from the Nez Perce reservation, will participate in Julyamsh. There will be twice as many as in 1999. That's in keeping with growth of the entire powwow, which is in its third year. SiJohn expects more than last year's 700 dancers, and as many as 75,000 visitors.

This year SiJohn expects more dancers, more visitors, more vendors selling Indian crafts and food. The art show and auction, slated for 5 p.m. Saturday, is also bigger. It will feature the work of 20 Indian artists, each of whom will donate one piece to the powwow to help defray costs.

SiJohn sees the powwow as a chance to share native culture with non-Indian neighbors.

"There's no politics here," he said. "It's just a day to gather in July. A good day to be alive."

History of the Horse


The Nez Perce Spotted Horse



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