KAMIAH -- Tents, teepees and trailers surround a grass dance floor that at dusk becomes a swirl of dance with colorful regalia worn by American Indians.
This array of historical customs meeting in North Central Idaho is Kamiah’s Chief Lookingglass Powwow, held the third weekend in August.
Dance participants, vendors and travelers came from many tribes and many states to be in Kamiah among friends and families. Viewers come from throughout the region to watch the dance, listen to drumming and learn about American Indian traditions.
The event is named for Nez Perce military leader Looking Glass (Allalimya Takanin, born c. 1832- d. 1877). He was a principal Nez Perce architect of many of the military strategies employed by the Nez Perce during the Nez Perce War of 1877. He, along with Chief Joseph, directed the 1877 retreat from eastern Oregon into Montana and onward toward the Canadian border during the Nez Perce War. He lead the Alpowai band of the Nez Perce, which included the communities of Asotin, Alpowa, and Sapachesap, along the Clearwater River in Idaho. He inherited his name from his father, the prominent Nez Percé chief Apash Wyakaikt (“Flint Necklace”) or Ippakness Wayhayken (“Looking Glass Around Neck”) and was therefore called by the whites Looking Glass.
Looking Glass’ village of about 140 people was within the bounds of the reservation on the site of the present-day Kooskia National Fish Hatchery.
Records indicate that Lookingglass’ descendents Delores Lookingglass Wheeler, Edna Lookingglass Thomas and Edith Lookingglass Strombeck, sisters, were awarded the first-place cash prize for a float they entered into the 1976 Kamiah Chamber of Commerce Barbecue Days Parade. They used this seed money and turned it into the first year of the Chief Lookingglass Powwow Celebration in 1977 during the centennial anniversary of the Nez Perce War.
Wheeler was the whip woman at the 20th Chief Lookingglass Powwow, responsible for getting the grand entry in order.
"Dance is kind of like medicine to me," said the 70-year-old Wheeler at the time. She died in 2013 at the age of 86.
The three-day event is checkered with traditional dancing, drumming, food, memorials and name-giving ceremonies with all ages, birth to elderly, participating.
Powwows are a way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships, and making new ones. This is a time method to renew American Indian culture and preserve rich heritage.
According to historical documents, there are several different stories of how the powwow was started. Some believe that the War dance Societies of the Ponca and other Southern Plains tribes were the origin of the powwow.
Another belief stems from when Native American tribes were forced onto reservations the government also forced them to have dances for the public to view. Before each dance they were lead through the town in a parade, which is the beginning of the grand entry. The grand entry is held at various times during the three-day weekend, usually one each day.
The Chief Lookingglass Powwow is held on the grounds of the Wa-a'Yas Community Center at Kamiah. A variety of additional activities take place including a memorial run, friendship dinner, huckleberry pancake breakfast, fry-bread contest, three-on-three basketball competition, memorial dinner, a parade and crowning of Miss Lookingglass.
Look for details on the Chief Looking Glass PowWow Facebook page as well as on the Kamiah Chamber of Commerce Facebook page or web site (www.kamiahchamber.com).