All-Indian Pow wow 1939 cover    All-Indian Pow wow 1940 cover    All-Indian Pow wow 1945 cover

Early years of the Pow Wow

In the 1880s, the government attempted to ban Native dancing on reservations and in tribal communities. Many ministers and missionaries, federal agents, philanthropists, and others believed that traditional dance prevented the assimilation of Native Americans into American culture. Native Nations found ways to hold dances, and “wild west” promoters were more than happy to provide venues for dancing to satisfy an insatiable American and European appetite for “exotic” events. The railroads (especially the Santa Fe with the Fred Harvey Company) tapped into the promotion of Indigenous culture as a means of building railroad-based tourism with Native crafts, dances and more. In the end, the popularity of the dances overwhelmed the reformist movements and federal management. Dances became the staple of many state and county fairs in the 1920s and 1930s. By the mid-1930s, BIA Commissioner John Collier lifted the dance bans.

For the City of Flagstaff, the roots and genesis of the All-Indian Pow-Wow took some interesting turns. The city organized the first Pow-Wow in 1929 as a replacement for the Elk’s “Days of ‘49”—the town’s previous July 4th celebration. Flagstaff merchants invited American Indians to partake in games, races and dances in exchange for free food. Held on the “flats” east of our college (near the location of the old Lumberjack Stadium), the first powwows proved to be modest gatherings. Dances were always a staple of the All-Indian Pow-wow; however, the events evolved over time: the “games” (Chicken pull, Tug o’ war) developed into a full-blown rodeo for example. As the powwow grew, it moved west to the Thorpe Park area at the end of Birch Street. F.W. Moore, K.L. Webber, and M.J. Pilkington formed Celebrations, Inc. in 1934 by to act as the organizing entity. They changed the name to Pow-Wow, Inc. in 1938. By 1942, the powwow included a carnival, with booths for selling Native art and crafts. Virtually everyone in Flagstaff and neighboring Native Nations attended and enjoyed the powwow at some time.


Introduction  |  Early years  |  Recollections  |  Language  |  Final years