Days of beauty
Notes on Hozhoni Days and finding a way home again

Days of beauty
Kirbie Bennett - 04/11/2024

When we write, we are always writing to an unknown future. I don’t care much for linear time, but it’s important to know that I am always writing to an Indigenous future. 

It’s a Saturday afternoon in the spring, and I’m on my way to the Hozhoni Days Pow Wow at Fort Lewis College. Earlier this morning, I received a text message from my grandfather Calvin. The text from shicheii read: “Hello grandson, I’ll be at Fort Lewis College today for the Gourd Dance.” He then invited me to attend it with him. I don’t think I’ve been to a pow wow with my grandfather since I was a child. Now I can transport myself back to childhood this afternoon with my grandfather at the Whalen Gym on campus. This is one reason why I advocate for living non-linearly. 

Since 1966, Indigenous students at Fort Lewis have been organizing the Hozhoni Days Pow Wow. By the mid-1960s, Indigenous folks were reclaiming sovereignty and proudly celebrating our heritage. Red Power was on the rise, especially on college campuses. “Around that time, you see a lot of Native students going to school to be Americans, without the Indian attachment,” Clyde Benally, an FLC alumnus and the “Father of Hozhoni Days,” said in a video released by the college. The pow wows were meant to reconnect Native students to their Indigeneity, resulting in the longest-running cultural celebration at Fort Lewis.  

In Diné, the word “Hozhoni” means “beautiful,” so the pow wow’s name translates to “Days of Beauty,” and that is exactly what you see from the mesa that holds the campus, with Durango and the La Plata Mountains in view. Beauty is blooming all around, the blue and green shine brighter, and the sun takes her time these days, admiring the season’s return. 

Inside Whalen Gym, Native folks from different Nations walk around in shawls and ceremonial regalia; it’s a swirl of sky blue, sunset orange and earthy red. I am home within a home. The drums are pounding, and I scan the bleachers for my grandfather. I see him seated up at the top, his faded cowboy hat prominent. He’s reclined, like he’s been attending Hozhoni Days since it started. While he’s been to many pow wows in Indian Country throughout his life, this is actually his first time at the college event. 

Usually, the gourd dance introduces the pow wow’s grand entry, and there’s a few more gourd songs left for us to watch. “The drums are a little too loud in here,” my grandfather says. “I like to hear the singing.” He says something about how the words are medicine, and it’s all medicine, really, but I can’t entirely hear him because the drums are giants stomping the floor. The dancers mostly remain in place, holding feather fans and rattles, moving gently in rhythm to the music. To witness a gourd dance means listening. You’re listening to the dancing, to the chanting and drumming. You’re listening to the colors, you’re listening to the earth. 

My grandfather drove from Arizona to be here, and in the crowd on the gym floor, I see one of my cousins with a feather fan and gourd, chanting along. He drove from Albuquerque to be here. And all around me I know other Indigenous folks traveled from other Nations, other states to be here. I like the way a pow wow brings different Nations together. We move through these cities in this land like they’re different rooms in a giant home we have always lived in. When the gourd dance ceremony ends, my grandfather is ready to head back to Arizona. I tell him I’m staying for The Grand Entry, so we say bye; he tells me he loves me in that Navajo way with a strong hug and words of affection in Diné, and I am a child again: borders are meaningless, and time is non-linear. 

And then, The Grand Entry starts. The drums rise up. The dancers start moving in through the gym doors. Colors of sky and earth decorate the dancers’ outfits. The singing and drumming greet the dancers, a mixture of young and old, all moving with grace. I watch the dancers, and there are moments when the procession feels endless, generations of Indigenous people returning in one room, and that makes me smile. It feels like we will live forever. When I say I’m writing to an Indigenous future, this endless flow of Indigeneity is what I’m thinking about. 

The dancing comes to a pause, letting the master of ceremonies say a prayer; they are words of grace about resiliency and sacrifice. Near the end of the prayer, the emcee says, “May we all return home.” And after I leave the event, I’m still thinking about those words. I want those words to reach Gaza. I hope our prayers talk to theirs in Palestine, in all occupied territories, and I hope someday we find the answer because we all dream of liberation and healing. At the end of the day, I am only bones and prayers. My heart is drumming, singing: May we all return home, may our songs never end. 

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