The drums echo through the gym, garnering attention from those in attendance. The cadence draws you in, leaving you wondering what will come next.
A tribal drum and dance group from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation made the trip to Baker City on Friday and Saturday to play before both games, and to dance at halftime of Saturday’s state championship game between Nixyaawii and Trinity Lutheran.
The group is led by Fred Hill, 62, who has taught tribal drum and dance history, and the Umatilla language, at Nixyaawii High School since it opened in 2004.
“The tournament allowed us to perform at halftime,” Hill said. “It was an honor.”
Golden Eagles coach Shane Rivera said he appreciates the group performing at the games.
“A lot of the kids, that is part of their culture,” Rivera said. “I’m glad they do it for our team.”
Just as important as keeping their traditions alive, is honoring their ancestors.
“We were gifted a drum from our late chief Carl Sampson, and we still use it,” Hill said. “It’s going in to get a new hide, the fourth since he gifted it to us, and retied. It’s pretty special.”
Sampson, also known as Peo Peo Mox Mox (Yellowbird), was the hereditary chief of the Walla Walla Tribe. He died Nov. 15, 2017.
The group usually performs at home games, and some tournament games where the Golden Eagles are the home team. They also will play upon invitation.
“We have a warm-up song to honor veterans and our ancestors, then we play the tribal flag song prior to the national anthem,” Hill said.
While the course he teaches at the school is not mandatory, Hill said likes seeing the students show interest in their heritage.
“The younger generation is in tune with the powwow culture,” Hill said.