The 2016 Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow in Morrison, Colorado. - American Cowboy | Western Lifestyle - Travel - People

The 2016 Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow in Morrison, Colorado.

Each spring, The Fort—Colorado’s iconic Front Range destination restaurant—is host to the state’s largest authentic American Indian art show.
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Credit: G.R. Schiavino A young dancer in traditional dress stands out in a wild sea of color and texture.

Credit: G.R. Schiavino A young dancer in traditional dress stands out in a wild sea of color and texture.

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The Event

For two days, nationally acclaimed Indian artists present their works in pottery, jewelry, painting, sculpture, beadwork, and other mediums, which are judged by the Council for Indigenous Arts and Culture. Not just a juried show, the event provides a phenomenal shopping experience for event-goers, allowing them to purchase one-of-a-kind authentic pieces, while speaking with the artists and craftsmen responsible for the product’s creation.

In conjunction with the market, more than 50 inter-tribal dancers and drum groups from more than 40 Indian Nations compete in a 2-day contest powwow. Each day features a Grand Entry honoring those American Indians veterans who have served this country. 

Southwestern cuisine is offered by The Fort, along with the Northern Colorado Intertribal Powwow Association.

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The Experience

The word tesoro means “treasure” in Spanish and, upon arriving at The Fort—located amidst the area’s archetypal red rock topography—that's exactly what you'll believe you've found. Built as an exact adobe replica of Old Bent’s Fort in southeastern Colorado that played an integral role along the Santa Fe Trail in the 1830s, perusing the weekend’s market in Morrison harkens to days of trading furs and spices on the old trail.

Perhaps what makes the market so enjoyable, however, beyond the availability of beautiful wares, is the opportunity to speak with the artists. In conversation with Colorado painter Don Brewer Wakpa, an Oglala / Hunkpapa Lakota, he took the time to share his process with me, explaining the inspirations and reasons for his color studies and also his efforts to perfect the challenges of rendering a horse’s nose. A few finished pieces hung on the canvas walls of his booth, suggesting that Wakpa’s lifelong practicing really does make perfect, his subjects’ forms and the brilliants tones drawing you in as though you are present in his scene, bearing witness to the drama from some high ridge.

At the booth of Arizona Navajo beadworker Janicelynn Yazzie, I was particularly drawn to a necklace depicting a cornstalk with birds resting on its leaves. I was told then of the legend of the Tree of Life—that the story begins in the wedding basket and moves upward, as is the custom of the Navajo. The wedding basket plays a significant role in the life of a Navajo woman, from puberty to marriage to the birth of her children, and with the birth of each new daughter, the life of the wedding basket is sustained through generations.

The market also included various demonstrations such as rug weaving and presentations by HawkQuest, which provided context on the role of the eagle in Native ceremonies and traditions and also explained the challenges these birds of prey face each day in the modern world. The presence of a live bald eagle, accompanied by a few other birds of prey, was particularly thrilling for younger event-goers.

For me, the not-to-miss moment of the event is the Grand Entry of the powwow. This year, it was led by the color guard, each flag carried by American Indian veterans representing the Marines, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, who had all served in either the Vietnam or Gulf Wars. The color guard was followed by dozens of dancers, some in strictly traditional dress, while others infused more modern influences into their costumes (the love of the Denver Broncos, for instance, not only made it into the opening prayer, but also into the clothing choice of at least one dancer). Regardless of modernity, many of the costumes displayed marvelous designs, and museum-worthy craftsmanship.

The HawkQuest eagle was also employed in the opening ceremony, spreading her 6-ft. wingspan to the four winds. And then the dancing began—dancers in bright colors and beads and feathered headdresses moving in time with and matching the energy of the drums and singers. Not long after, spectators were invited to enter the circle and join in.

Within the circle and out, it was easy to witness old friends reconnecting, perhaps having not seen each other since last year’s Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow, or maybe the 2015 powwow season, or at least since the Gathering of Nations the month before in Albuquerque. Hands were shaken, hugs and warm smiles were shared, and, in the spirit of the old fort, stunning and authentically crafted wares were offered to those who’d made the journey.

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The Logistics

Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow
May, annually
Admission: $5, adult; Seniors and Children, Free; Students with ID, $3.

Presented by …

Tesoro Cultural Center: 303-839-1671, tesoroculturalcenter.org
P.O. Box 569
Morrison, CO 80465

Located at …

The Fort Restaurant: 303-697-4771, thefort.com
19192 Highway 8
Morrison, CO 80465

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