Saturday, March 18, 2006

Friendship Dance

Friendship Dance at Northern Quest.
Copyright © 2006 Barry G. Moses.

About 13 years ago, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (formerly the Cheney Cowles Museum) began sponsoring an annual Friendship Dance, featuring Plateau Salish drums and dancers. It was a brilliant idea put forth by Spokane Tribal elder Robert Sherwood, among others. Most local powwows reflect strong cultural influences from other tribes, making it difficult to identify indigenous characteristics from this region. Furthermore, non-Native observers generally lack a clear understanding of the various dances and songs.

The Friendship Dance addresses both issues. It provides a forum for specifically Plateau Salish traditions and offers an explication of the meaning behind each dance. As I say, it's a wonderful opportunity for people to learn more about local customs and traditions.

It's a great idea, but I also have a painful personal history associated with this dance. My father was the "Whip Man" at the second Friendship Dance held at the Masonic Temple in 1994. He suffered a massive heart attack and died before the ambulance even arrived. I was supposed to be there that night, but I missed it. I would have been by my father's side as he passed from this life.

The following year, the Friendship Dance honored my father with a special dinner and dance. I attended out of respect for my father, but it was very hard for me to visit the site of his death. I tried to show a brave face, but all I could do was weep. I never went back to the Friendship Dance, until today.

Dakota and I entered Northern Quest Casino through the "family entrance." We heard the sound of drums mixing with the sound of modern music from inside the casino. The arrangement seemed somewhat strange to me, set in a ballroom with the drummers on a stage. Dancers mingled with casino staff carrying trays of food and pouring banquet style glasses of water.

Something about my surroundings felt so totally foreign, and yet the songs were the same as always. The spirit of the songs filled the room and old friends made me know the tradition continues.

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