Here to stay

10 years of Keeping the Tradition at SunWatch

By Tim Smith

Photo: Keeping the Tradition Pow Wow honors Miami Valley native culture at SunWatch Indian Village June 25 and 26; photo: Andy Sawyer

A pow wow has been described as being many different things to many different people of Native American descent. It is an event associated with dancing, singing and celebrating, where people from different tribes can share an important part of themselves and their culture, including sacred rituals steeped in tradition.

For the 10th year, SunWatch Indian Village is hosting the Keeping the Tradition Pow Wow on June 25 and 26. The Miami Valley Council for Native Americans puts on the annual festival. Pow wow is considered a special time for Native Americans to reflect upon a rich heritage while embracing the sounds and rhythms of American Indian music.

According to SunWatch Event Coordinator Andy Sawyer, the pow wow had its beginnings elsewhere.

This is actually the 28th year of the pow wow and its 10th year at SunWatch,” he says. “The Miami Valley Council for Native Americans started the pow wow in Dayton in 1989, and it was held at Caesar’s Ford Park in Xenia where the Blue Jacket outdoor production used to be held for years. Once the legend that Blue Jacket was actually a Caucasian named Marmaduke Van Swearingen who had been kidnapped and adopted by the Shawnee and grew up to become their leading war chief was proven false by a DNA analysis, there was immediate concern for the future of the outdoor production and the park.”

When it was officially announced that the Blue Jacket production would end, serious discussions between SunWatch and the Miami Valley Council began.

“At that time, I contacted Guy Jones and the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans to let them know that if anything happened to the venue and if they would not be able to continue holding the pow wow at that location that I would like to talk to them about continuing the pow wow at SunWatch,”
Sawyer says.

They hosted the 19th annual festival beginning in 2007, and it’s been a successful partnership.

“Attendance each year [the festival] has been at SunWatch has been pretty consistent, though it does vary depending on the weather,” Sawyer notes. “Last year we had rain on the Saturday of the pow wow so that kept weekend attendance down. We get an amazing diversity of people who attend the event, both Native and non-Native, young and old. We want to make sure that this is accessible to everyone and that they have an enjoyable and educational experience.”

The event features both men and women’s dances, including the men’s grass dance and the women’s shawl and jingle dances, performed wearing full regalia. There will also be vendors on hand, offering traditional foods and artifacts. A lot of group coordination goes into making the event happen each year.

“Guy Jones coordinates the drummers, dancers and other participants while I take care of getting the facility ready, lining up vendors and organizing promotions,” Sawyer says.

Throughout the years, the pow wow has come to exemplify generosity and giving. The Winnebago term “hayluska,” meaning “to give” or “giving,” best defines the modern day pow wow. Participants come to the event with honor and respect for each other and their traditions. A significant part of the gatherings is the exchange of gifts, which is considered important for re-establishing old ties and friendships.

“I would like for attendees to leave this event, or anything else we do at SunWatch, recognizing that American Indian cultures have been present in the Miami Valley for over 12,000 years and they remain active and vibrant communities in the United States,” Sawyer says. “I get the impression that a lot of folks don’t realize that American Indian communities are still present within the United States and what their history is. So for me, whatever we can do to share that rich history and have our guests leave here with a better understanding of it is my goal.”

Keeping the Tradition Pow Wow will be held on June 25 and 26 at SunWatch Indian Village, 2301 W. River Rd. in Dayton. Hours run from noon to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission costs $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and children six to 16. For more information please call 937.268.8199 or visit 

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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