by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Did you know that back in mid-July 1997, Grain Valley hosted the Kansas City Indian Club’s 35th Annual Pow Wow?
A powwow is a sacred social gathering held by many North American indigenous communities. A modern pow wow is a specific type of event for Native American people to meet and dance, sing, socialize, and honor their cultures. Pow wows may be private or public. There is generally a dancing competition, with many types of traditional dances, often with significant prize money awarded. Pow wows vary in length from a one-day event, to major pow wows called for a special occasion which can last up to a week. The pow wow in Grain Valley lasted for three days.
Several hundred Native Americans, a number of them performing special colorful dances, and other visitors showed up for the ceremony. According to The Examiner (July 21, 1997) “Some moved simply in rhythm to the drum and others whirled as they danced, a blur from a yellow and orange outfit or whatever colors they were wearing.”
At the powwow several men beat a huge drum in unison under a canopy in the middle of the arena at the old Grain Valley Fair Grounds on AA Highway, just east of Buckner Tarsney (now the race track). The drum symbolizes the heartbeat and is a way for native Americans to celebrate part of their heritage and for others to learn more about it.
In addition to the dancing, the powwow offered ethnic food booths and crafts. Grain Valley was a much smaller town in 1997. The biggest thing I remember about the pow wow was the traffic jams. I do not recall that we had any traffic lights in 1997!
The Kansas City Indian Club still operates on 39th Street in Kansas City. Incorporated in 1971, the Heart of America Indian Center, Inc., (Kansas City Indian Center) operates as the Kansas City area’s only multi-purpose social service agency for American Indians.
Following World War II, with government relocation and training programs — and a formal policy in the early 1950s of reservation termination — American Indians were relocating to urban areas. To help sustain the cultural and spiritual beliefs of their tribes, local elders began the social club.
Joe Lewis of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe in Oskaloosa, Kansas, doing a hand gourd dance at the 1997 Pow Wow held in Grain Valley. Photo credit: The Examiner