Gathering at the Falls Powwow
An annual celebration of Native American arts and culture, past and present. The history of this event, and the significance of gathering at the Spokane River, goes back generations.
Lilac Bowl, Riverfront Park
History of Gathering at the Falls
The Gathering at the Falls Powwow (GATF) has been a part of Spokane summers for more than a quarter-century. However, the annual summer gathering at the Spokane Falls goes back to time immemorial, when native nations of the Pacific Northwest traveled to the Falls for large salmon fishing.
As many as a million chinook (king) salmon made their way up the Spokane River each summer. Large camps of native fishermen caught as many as 300,000 of these 50-80 pound salmon. Along with fishing, the tribes competed in inter-tribal games and shared their cultures.
This was before large commercial fishing and before the building of great dams along the Spokane and Columbia rivers in the early 20th century. Now, the Spokane River no longer gets the chinook salmon.
The changes to the fish stock in the river struck a blow to the economies of the Pacific Northwest. Early tourism to the City of Spokane had depended on visitors coming to see the natural spectacle of the chinook salmon swimming in large schools near the Falls. The native tribes in the area who counted on the fish for food and for trade experienced acute loss to an important part of their way of life.
This history is remembered during the annual GATF Powwow. The logo for this event ties together the past and the present with the iconic depiction of the Spokane Falls and the swimming salmon swooping around the modern image of the Spokane clock tower. These symbols make their way into the beading on powwow royalty’s crowns as well.
Shane Garcia (Chair of the GATF Powwow Committee) and Jerry Crowshoe (Youth Powwow Coordinator) have been with the GATF planning committee since 2012. Together they have built the committee from three active members to the ten they have today. The event itself has prospered and grown as well.
Garcia said, “We have documented over 200 Tribes are represented at the event through our dancers and singers. However, our committee focuses on representing the local tribes who have historically utilized the land for ceremonial purposes, to harvest salmon, and to trade.”
Powwow Into the Future
While the chinook salmon no longer come to the Falls, the people still gather there to remember and share in a tribal culture that is vibrant, alive, and moving into the future. Organizers of the GATF powwow are very much involved in the activism to preserve and protect indigenous heritage and vital waterways for all people.
The GATF Powwow committee contributed to the effort to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day in Spokane in 2016. In March of 2017, Canada Island which is located on the Spokane River in Riverfront Park has been returned and rededicated to the Spokane Tribe with the name snxw meneɂ (sin-HOO-men-huh), which means “salmon people” in Salish. It is, as it was for generations, a gathering place “for prayers and a place for water protectors to gather to pray for the health of our water tributaries.” says Garcia.