Powwow, programs share Native American tradition

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Robert Bass has a passion for sharing and preserving the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians. A founding member of the Eagle Point Singers, an American Indian drum group based in Cedar Park that performs at schools, cultural institutions and powwows around the region, Bass this year has taken on the role of program director for Great Promise for American Indians.

This Central Texas organization is committed to sharing cultural traditions, dispelling myths about the many American Indian cultures and supporting the health and education needs of Native youth and families by focusing on the future. It was formed 30 years ago by concerned educators who happened to be Native American, he said.  

“We bring Native American culture into the schools, so students see a positive and accurate representation of American Indian heritage,” Bass said. “Local Native American dancers, artists and storytellers share their talents and history through these educational programs.”

Bass helped start the Eagle Point Singers in 2005.

More than 2,000 singers and dancers from Cedar Park and all over Texas – even from other states – perform for audiences at powwows in Austin and across the country. Representing many different tribes, members spend a lot of time learning powwow songs and traditions.

“It really is a big responsibility,” he said. “You have to learn how to sing well and properly and know what songs are appropriate for what occasions.”

The powwow remains the most popular vehicle for communicating Native American cultural heritage and is very much a social event.

“It’s very exciting to watch,” Bass said. “The powwow is very important because it does carry on traditions. The dances are meant to be enjoyed and it’s a good family event. Everyone should feel very welcome, bring the entire family and enjoy.”

Bass also serves as co-chair of Great Promise’s annual Austin Powwow and American Indian Festival slated for Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Travis County Expo Center.

Great Promise Executive Director Lois Duncan said the Austin Powwow is moving this year to the Travis County Expo Center for the first time after 23 years at the Toney Burger Center in south Austin.

“We appreciate the Burger Center’s hospitality over the past 23 years, but we were outgrowing the space,” Duncan said.

With more than 300 participating dancers on average, Duncan said the indoor stadium was crowded during the Grand Entry performances, when all of the dancers and drummers for the day enter the arena in a procession displaying their different styles of dance or drumming.

“We are changing things a bit and this year and four-person teams can now dance in any men’s or women’s dance categories,” she said. “What makes it really special is not only do you have to be really proficient, but you add complexity with the elements of choreography and synchronization.”

The powwow’s 100-plus booth Indian Market will feature Native-made jewelry (following the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act), drums, flutes, apparel, gift items and items for children. Native dishes, such as buffalo burgers, mutton stew, frybread and all kinds of corn will be available, Duncan said.

Great Promise also offers summer camps and educational programming available to schools and community centers and organizations throughout the year. Programs include drum groups with dancers, historic programs with exhibits and audio-visual presentations, speakers and panel discussions.

For more information on Great Promise for American Indians, visit www.austinpowwow.net.

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