Percy Casper isn't dancing for the money.
For the Shuswap elder, the Kamloopa Powwow is a chance to connect with spiritual roots, get together with old friends, and listen and dance to "some great powwow music."
Sixty-four years old, Casper has been dancing in powwows since 1962, and figures he's adorned himself in traditional regalia thousands of times. He's considered one of the "old warriors" now but quickly adds: "I still got a few moves."
Casper said powwows are more celebration than ceremony, more joyous festival than solemn or serious ritual. Still, he sees powwows as an important cultural connection he needs to remind himself about who he is.
"It is very important for me to be involved," Casper said. "It keeps me in tune with who I am, it makes me remember who I am. Without it, I'd be a lost soul."
The powwow is also a competition, however, with cash prizes awarded to winners across different age groups and dance categories. Casper said he isn't in it for the cash but won't refuse it either, should the judges like what he has to offer.
"The prizes are a nice bonus," he said.
There is more than $77,000 up for grabs at this year's powwow, said Delyla Daniels, the president of this year's powwow committee, with top prizes as high as $2,000 in some of the events.
That kind of payout is attractive to dancers, she said, bringing participants from across western North America and Canada. There is an extensive circuit of powwows in North America, and many dancers travel continually through the season, hitting events every weekend.
Some of them are good enough to make dancing financially attractive. There are no professional powwow dancers, she said, but there are some who are able to make the circuit pay for itself.
"You can easily bring in some good money if you are good at what you do," she said.
And there are powwow stars, Daniels said, dancers who are quickly recognized as skilled in their categories. When they arrive, everyone pays a little more attention.
"It makes you try a little harder," she said.
But Daniels agreed with Casper — powwows are not about the cash. They are mostly about honouring culture and tradition through language, dance and song.
Many of the dances are held to celebrate significant events within host communities, to honour special achievements or mourn losses. Daniels said one dance Saturday night will be held in memorial of John Jules, a respected and well-liked Kamloops leader who died last year. Dancers especially want to take part in such "specials."
Daniels said powwows are growing within native communities, getting stronger every year. This is the 33rd powwow held in Kamloops, she said. More than 1,000 dancers will take part in this weekend's events, with 20,000 people expected to watch over the three days.
The event is also popular with young people. Dancers as young as seven years old will compete, she said. Powwows are just as important to native youth as they are to elders.
"It's an important gathering of First Nations people."
Casey Thunderspirit, 14, won't be dancing in this powwow — he's not yet been able to put together a regalia — although he's working on it.
It takes time and money to make the elaborate costumes, he said. The Edmonton teen has a plan in mind but it will take time. Until then, he will watch his friends dance, and enjoy the music.
"It's a great party," he said. "I will have a good time watching my friends dance, just being part of the scene. It's a good thing."