Adrianna, who can trace her lineage to the Oglala, Lakota, Santee and Sioux Indian tribes, had been chosen Powwow Princess, and thus would represent this powwow for a year at other ones all over the United States.
A powwow is an event for Native American people to meet and sing and dance to the music of a ‘Drum’, to socialize, and honor their culture. There is a dancing competition, often with significant prize money awarded.
“The powwow is a way to celebrate our culture and keep it alive,” Iris explained. "Especially for our children, many of whom grow up in the city these days. And with it, we show non-Indians that we are still there.”
Iris found it important to bring up her three children, Adrianna and the boys Tylor (7) and Teak (1), with American Indian values. She taught them how to dance as soon as they could walk. “We are so few,” she said. “It is important to pass on the stories, morals, customs and ancestry. It affords a basis.”
Ten years later I meet Adrianna (21), her mother, a new stepfather, two brothers and grandmother again during the annual three day Denver March Powwow. It is one of the most important events on the Indian calendar. Native Americans from all over the U.S. gather there to meet family and friends. I want to hear if her American Indian heritage and traditions still play a role in Adrianna’s life. She studies psychology and is training to become an officer with the U.S. Marines Reserve. She also has become one of the better Jingle Dress dancers, regularly winning prize money.
“Dancing is like breathing to me,” she says. “Every time I get on the dance floor and I hear that drum beat, I just feel elation. And I go with it. It’s a part of who I am.”
Being a Native American is at the basis of her existence, Adrianna explains. All her decisions and plans for the future derive from that. Her choice of wanting to be in the military stems from the Native American warrior culture. “I love the discipline. The respect that you have to give, just like with the Native tribes, to older people, or people in a higher rank, and to yourself.
“I take pride in being part of a people with an important heritage. One of my great great uncles is Crazy Horse. I know what I am, where I come from. I have many friends that don’t know exactly what they are. Yes, Irish or Polish, but they don’t have a bond with their people anymore. I feel bad for them. They are only Americans.”
Powwow is one of the stories from the book project American Moments (ongoing since 1996). By photographing young Americans in their daily lives I am, as a European photographer and writer, looking for an answer to the question: What does it mean to be an American? The young people in my photos are still finding out for themselves, consciously or not, how to become a member of American society. I am hoping to learn from them.
For more photos from this ongoing project visit its webpage.