June 12, 2013
It matters not that U.S. Department of Agriculture asserts that a paper-plate-sized serving of fry bread contains 700 calories and 25 grams of fat. I still couldn’t possibly attend a powwow without partaking of a serving of that indigenous cultural sacrament with all its sundry accoutrements including honey and powdered sugar.
It would be like going to Dodger Stadium and not savoring a "Dodger Dog." Some foodstuffs flat-out transcend their health coefficient and historically, for me anyway, fry bread and Dodger Dogs are two of them. The respective rituals of ingestion are like absorbing all that is intrinsic to the individual events in question.
It would be quite difficult for me to imagine either a powwow or a Dodger game even taking place without the easy availability of each tradition’s signature dish. In fact, the way things are going for my favorite ball club these days, maybe a mandatory dog or two before each game for each and every player would help them right the ship.
Such is not the case for powwow participants. They don’t have to be told to belly-up to a Navajo Taco stand for a "taste of grace." It’s common knowledge among the faithful that what appears to the uninitiated to be nothing more than fried dough is, in fact, revered by many as a symbol of native pride and unity.
Not that there aren’t downsides to the immoderate use of both fry bread and hot dogs, of course. Both high levels of diabetes on reservations and slothful obesity along the third-base line have been attributed to just such overindulgent snacking.
However, with the Heber Valley Powwow and Mountain Man Rendezvous only coming around once a year and my visits to Chavez Ravine way less often than that, I’m not very worried about the sporadic digestion, or lack thereof, of a sugar, flour, lard, and salt pancake or a sausage stuffed with questionable meat, meat fat, cereal filler, egg white and spices.
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This coming weekend, however, I do have the opportunity to partake of one of these aforementioned delicacies, and with the Dodgers on the road in Pittsburgh, that must mean that the Heber Valley Powwow is once again coming to town.
There was a time, back before the local powwow organizing committee moved its wingding up to Soldier Hollow, that the entire gathering of the tribes took place at the old Heber Valley Fairgrounds, which just happened to be located right across the street from my house.
That’s when I first got strung out on all the drumming and singing and dancing and eating and storytelling the gestalt of powwow. I’d go to sleep at night to pickup truck radios blaring Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and wake up to the crackling PA system announcing the schedule of the day. I loved it!
Wandering the powwow grounds early in the morning always held a very special place for me. Kids tumbling out of teepees, arts and crafts and food vendors setting up their booths, dancers preparing for the various competitions by donning regalia to which they will add beads, ribbons, feathers, and whatnot.
Trying to identify members of the powwow "Head Staff" was also one of my favorite morning pastimes. Not that I ever succeeded, by any stretch. It’s not easy, what with the extravagantly intricate handcrafting performed upon dancers’ outfits in general, to pick out the Head Man Dancer and the Head Woman Dancer, those who lead the other dancers in the parade that makes up the Grand Entry.
Some of these exquisite outfits, many of which are the result of much thought, time, energy and expense, are adorned with family heirlooms passed down through generations. The feathers are particularly sacred! Do not touch!
The annual Heber Valley Powwow and Mountain Man Rendezvous has become one of my favorite weekends of the year and I’m sure this upcoming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be no different.
Grab a lawn chair, just in case the bleachers get full, and kick back at one of the most thoroughly enjoyable gatherings available on the Wasatch cultural calendar. And don’t be afraid to engage with all the dancers, drummers, singers and vendors. That’s part of the magic!
You might want to remember sunscreen and a parasol, also. It’ll be sunny each day with temps projected to be in the mid to upper 80s on that beautiful sloping hillside at Soldier Hollow. Evenings, of course will be cooler than during the day. And most of all, bring respect for everyone and everything. Become one with the moment.
And don’t be afraid to have a ritual plate of fry bread while you’re at it, replete with garnishment. It’ll clue you in as to the more mystical elements of "Powwow." Plus, fry bread flashbacks are way more colorful than most all others.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.