ALBANY - Janet Marquez of Corvallis describes herself as part Apache, part Navajo, part Cherokee and part Mexican. But when she comes to a powwow, she feels part of something more important: a community.
"This is my family. I am Native American," said the Linn-Benton Community College student, who hurried through her last class to make it to a powwow Saturday sponsored by the college's Multicultural Center.
"We may not know each other's names," she added, "but we're all people."
That's the whole point of a powwow, and part of the reason for holding one at the college for the second consecutive year, organizer Nick Sixkiller said.
"A powwow is meant for Indian people to come together and celebrate who we are as indigenous people," said Sixkiller, who works for the education department of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.
The Willamette Valley is home to people with ties to an estimated 85 different tribes, all with different cultures and customs, Sixkiller said. Participants in Saturday's powwow said it's important to get together as often as possible to preserve the heritage they have left.
"We used to have all these aunties and teachers and leaders," said Cherokee Krenz of Lebanon. "The younger generation hasn't picked up on the traditions, and there's so few teachers left."
Krenz used to join the women's "jingle dancing," wearing a dress covered in silver cone-shaped beads that shimmer and rattle.
Her son, Frank John Scott Eagle Krenz, 23, performed the men's traditional dance at the powwow in a costume covered with the feathers of birds that signify protection, such as the eagle and the red-tailed hawk.
Powwow dances are important traditions to keep, Cherokee Krenz said.
Dances honor families, a tribe's elders, people who have died, and veterans past and present.
"We dance first for the Creator, honor for the Creator," she said.
"It's giving thanks."
Those ancient traditions give powwows their passion and intensity, said spectator Rob Norman of Albany. Although he's not of Indian heritage, Norman said he's drawn to the culture and has traveled as far as Tulsa, Okla., to take in a powwow.
"It kind of takes you back in time," he said. "You can enjoy the authenticity of something that went on 100 years ago, kind of recapture that atmosphere of ancientness."
Powwows sometimes are places where new traditions are born, which isn't always a bad thing, Sixkiller said. He pointed with pride to a drumming group from the Chemawa Indian School: Seven teenage boys, most wearing basketball jerseys instead of beads or buckskin, and calling themselves "The New Boyz."
The ceremonies also are a chance, Cherokee Krenz said, for people of non-Indian descent to learn about native cultures.
"Come and enjoy it," she said. "We go to your movies. We go to your restaurants. We go to whatever you got going - come and watch us."