There’s a place on the Oregon Coast that’s out of the public eye — high on a tree-lined hilltop with the Siletz River winding below, far from the noise of cars. If you’re lucky, you can spot eagles or hawks in the sky, and feel the energy of this sacred piece of tribal land.
Once a year, visitors are invited to the Pauline Ricks Memorial Pow-Wow Grounds at Government Hill in Siletz, midway between Lincoln City and Newport, about 10 miles inland, for the annual Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow (Aug. 9-11, 2019). The Siletz Tribe — headquartered in Siletz and operating the Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City — hosts the event as a family-friendly celebration of Native American culture.
In Siletz, families line the streets to enjoy the spectacular parade, with traditional dance, drums, decorated horses and floats. On Sunday, they gather for a giant salmon bake — all free and open to the public. It’s one of several Native celebrations across Oregon that welcome visitors each summer and fall.
Why attend a powwow? “You can learn about Native culture; you can see it right in front of you,” says Diane Rodriquez, a spokesperson for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. “You should come so you can learn; you can ask people about their regalia. Maybe it’s been passed down three or four generations. Maybe it’s brand new, made by an auntie or family friend or the person themselves.”
Powwows integrate stories about the history of each dance. For instance, the jingle dress dance of the Siletz and other tribes is named for its unique design, made of the tin lids of chewing tobacco attached to the dress — worn to pray for people who have addictions. “It’s a beautiful sound,” Rodriquez says. “You can always tell a jingle dress dancer is coming.” Grass dancers, meanwhile, wear a long fringe, and their style of dance was used to tamp down tall grasses.
To see the most participants at once, try to catch the grand entry — at 7 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, and Sunday at noon. You can see the dancers in their regalia up close, with veterans, the Tribal Council, Siletz and visiting royalty, and dancers arranged by dance style and age (the oldest, into their 80s, to the youngest). It’s a competition, so dancers get points for participating in the parade as well as for their dance. On Sunday, the salmon is cooked over a 20-foot fire pit on cedar sticks. Visitors can also buy food from local vendors, such as a taco fixings atop fry bread, fry bread with cinnamon and sugar, and other treats.
The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians encompass many different tribes; their ancestors spoke at least 10 different languages. Today, the group includes a host of tribes along the Coast range — including the Clatsop, Chinook, Klickitat, Molala, Kalapuya, Tillamook, and many more — all of which have their distinct history and culture. More than 100,000 Native Americans call Oregon home today, part of dozens of tribes, nine of which are federally recognized.
Ready to experience more Native celebrations? Here are others to check out.
In Eastern Oregon, the Umatilla Confederated Tribes puts on one of the biggest powwows in the state, the Wildhorse Pow Wow (July 5-7, 2019) in Pendleton. The traditional dancing and drumming contests rear big prizes, plus they’re a delight to watch.
It’s an annual tradition at the Tamkaliks Celebration in Wallowa (July 19-21, 2019) for participants to set up teepees along the river and join in a friendship feast of local salmon, deer, elk and fish. Nearby, visit the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center for more inspiration.
Every Labor Day weekend, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute hosts the annual Kidz Pow Wow in Pendleton, when all children 12 and under can dance for prizes and play traditional games. Everyone is welcome to participate, tribal or non-tribal, and no regalia is required.
In the Willamette Valley, visit the annual Grand Ronde Contest Powwow (Aug. 16-18, 2019) at the Uyxat Powwow Grounds in Willamina, about 20 miles southwest of McMinnville. The event is one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest, with more than 250 Native dancers competing for prize money in 20 categories.
In Central Oregon, the Pi-Ume-Sha Treaty Days Pow Wow Celebration (June 28-30, 2019) in Warm Springs marks a major occasion: The signing of the treaty of 1855 between the United States government and the Indians of Middle Oregon, which established the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Visitors enjoy a parade, rodeo, drumming, up to 500 dancers in native regalia, wild horse racing and bull riding.