Indian dancers in brilliant regalia that contrasted with the gray skies overhead gathered in a spirit of harmony Saturday during the annual spring powwow at Haskell Indian Junior College.
"It's not really the weather that's important, it's the feeling you get when you're dancing," said Raymond Alexander, one of about 200 Native American dancers who weren't daunted by Saturday's drizzle.
"We like to get into harmony with the environment," he said. "When you enter the circle here, it's like entering a sacred place. It's hard to describe."
The powwow has been held every spring on the west side of the Haskell campus for the last 15 or 16 years, organizers said.
Representatives from about 140 tribes from as far away as Canada, California and Florida were taking part in this year's powwow, which celebrates the renewal of spring and Friday's graduation of Haskell students.
THE POWWOW continues today from 1 p.m. to about 6 p.m.
In case of rain, the powwow activities will be held in the Coffin Sports Complex at Haskell.
On Saturday, about 1,000 spectators gathered around the main feature of the powwow, a large circular area where dancers performed.
Visitors also may purchase Indian tacos, jewelry, and clothing from about 50 vendors set up around the area.
"The turnout is pretty good considering the weather and everything," said Henry Collins, program chairman of the powwow.
"People are going to be here rain or shine or snow," he said. "It's like a family reunion."
The powwow offers Native Americans the chance to get together and share spiritual bonds.
Gifts such as food and clothing are placed near the powwow's announcment center by friends and relatives to honor achievements of Haskell students and dancers.
In another area, a group of Native American singers chant and beat a large drum in unison for the dancers.
Saturday night, freshman Angela Brown, a Northern Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah, was crowned Miss Haskell 1991.
THE DANCES performed Saturday included honor dances, lead by chosen head man and head woman dancers, gourd dancing and a warrior dance in which only men take part.
Shawna Longhorn, Wichita, and Gabe Morgan, Anadarko, Okla., were this year's head woman and head man dancers.
"It's was an honor to be asked," Longhorn said.
She led a few honor dances in which several dozen people gradually joined as the dance progressed.
"I was a little nervous when I started," she said. "I didn't know whether they were all going to come out (and follow)."
The grassy arena where the dancing takes place is considered a sacred area.
The public is welcomed to join many of the dances.
Many Native Americans said the powwow is an event that has importance beyond politics.
"People have been saying a lot of prayers about the recent Indian deaths," said Longhorn, 19, a Northern Arapaho-Absentee Shawnee and Haskell freshman.
TENSIONS HAVE been high in Lawrence following the recent police shooting death of a Native American man. The bodies of three other Native American men have been found in Lawrence during the last two years. Questions about those deaths still haven't been answered.
"The powwow is beyond local politics," said Alexander, a Seminole from Olathe who was dressed in his traditional dancing costume.
"A powwow is kind of like what they used to have in the old days when all the farmers used to get together and have a square dance," he said. "It's a time for everyone to get together and socialize."
Manny King, a Northern Cheyenne and Haskell guidance counselor, said he was encouraged by a growing number of people coming to the Haskell powwow.
"It's good to see everybody come out," he said. "I think everybody can enjoy themselves with all the cutural experience here."