As part of the Art Association’s pop-up art fair Saturday, Nukah’whups dancers from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes will bring indigenous dance back to their aboriginal homelands.

The tribes, located on the Fort Hall Reservation in Southeastern Idaho, trace their origins to much of western Wyoming, eastern Idaho and northern Utah, and members still return to the region annually to celebrate their ancestry.

“We have dances and ceremonies for almost everything that we do when it comes to hunting and gathering,” troupe coordinator Claudia Washakie said. “But the dances that are going to be performed on Saturday are to educate people.

“We’re hoping that people learn, essentially, that we’re not forgotten people,” she said, “and that the whole Jackson Hole Valley, as well as the Yellowstone area, they are our aboriginal territories.”

Performances will start at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. outside the Center for the Arts and will feature dance styles consistent with powwow celebrations. Movements mirror more traditional, ceremonial dances in their goal of uplifting the spirit, but they serve a different purpose, Washakie said.

“When we dance at powwows it’s more or less a social gathering,” she said. “And that social gathering is to bring people together so that they can enjoy each other’s company, visit with friends, make new friends.”

Nukah’whups translates to “People Who Dance for Us” in Shoshone. Their performance is also an invitation: Through dance, a door opens into a culture that was previously unknown.

For example, the men’s grass dance traces back to mid-western America, where tribes moved camps to follow the hunt. There the rhythmic pounding of feet onto grass helped level the ground and prepare it for camp, and today serves to bless the land when performed.

The Nukah’whups dancers also celebrate in more intimate settings: When the Shoshone-Bannock people used to return to the valley to harvest huckleberries and chokecherries, special dances would be offered to bless the feast.

Such moments are intentionally away from the public eye. On Saturday, tribe members will get to share their zeal for life with all.

Jennifer Dorsey is chief copy editor for the News&Guide and one of the editors for local articles printed in the Jackson Hole Daily.

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