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Pow wows and traditional ceremonies return

November 23, 2022

By Brendan Baptiste

Corrections Department

Group of native people in regalia taking part in a ceremonial dance

Inmates dance in traditional regalia during a powwow in Airway Heights. (Photo courtesy of Huy Cares.org)

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Native American Heritage Day, November 25thth, honoring Native Americans and their immense contributions to the United States. The Native American Heritage Day Act was passed by the Washington State Legislature in 2013. The bill was created to encourage people of all backgrounds to focus on Aboriginal history, achievements and contributions the day after Thanksgiving.

Returning from Pow Wows to the fixes

At Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) prison facilities, this year’s celebrations address the return of pow wows and blanket ceremonies across the state as many COVID restrictions have been lifted, allowing in-person gatherings again.

Pow Wows are a gathering held by Native American and First Nation communities. These gatherings allow aboriginal people to dance, sing, and socialize while honoring their culture. With 4.9% of Washington state’s incarcerated population identifying as Native American or Alaskan Native, these celebrations are an important way to stay connected with their respected cultures and communities.

Airway Heights Pow Wow

A powwow in Airway Heights required a lot of preparation to ensure the ceremony was culturally appropriate. Those in attendance offered handmade clothing and intricate beaded jewelry such as medallions and earrings. Particular care was taken with the food provided.

We got the buffalo stew, the salmon, all Native American ingredients they don’t normally get says Kay Heinrich, Associate Superintendent of Programs.

Many participants come dressed in traditional regalia. The colorful dress can hold a deep meaning for those who wear it. Many inmates reconnect with their culture as a result of these powwows and proudly sew insignia for the first time. Being able to connect more deeply to their culture can be a useful tool in escaping the temptations that may have landed them in prison.

DOC facilities across the state are also resuming pow-wows, see the full schedule here.

Some Pow Wows have even made the news, check out these articles for the full story!

  • Powwow takes place at Washington State Penitentiary Wilken, C. Whitman Wire (Oct. 20, 2022)
  • Detained natives gather for first powwow in three years Brown, K. Underscore (10/13/2022)
  • Washington state prison powwows resume after two-year hiatus due to COVID Nadvornick, D. wfdd (11/20/2022)
  • Powwows are returning to Washington’s prisons Nadvornick, D. KUOW (11/13/2022)
  • Powwow for Indigenous Prisoners in Walla Walla provides an opportunity for healing Robertson, S. KING5 (Oct. 7, 2022)
  • Blanketing ceremonies

    Blanketing ceremonies are also making a welcome return across the state.

    Nancy Dufraine, who recently retired after serving as DOC director of tribal relations since 2017, was honored with a dedication ceremony last week by the agency’s Alaskan Native/Native America Employee Resource Group. These ceremonies are a way to show respect for those who have made significant contributions to their communities.

    The gathering also included a roundtable, potluck, and song and story sharing.

    Thank you Nancy for your invaluable work over the years with families, communities and tribes to protect and support them on their journey to well being and stability.

    tribal relations

    For more information on DOC Tribal Relations, please visit our Tribal Relations webpage.

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