MPR reporter John Ydstie presents sound portrait of a powwow celebration. Ydstie went to the White Earth Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota and recorded various interviews and performances from the Ojibwe cultural event.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
Dozens of tents are pitched over this sloping Hillside just Northeast of the village of wider on the white Earth Indian Reservation, which sits in the woods and Hills just north of Detroit Lakes Minnesota at the top of the hill is an arena surrounded by an arbor of poles and Poplar branches in the middle of the Arena are six thirty foot poles bearing the flags of the Sacred colors of the Indian nations people from small children to Old grandmother's begin to make their way toward the arena where the Indian dancing which is the climax of this powwow will soon begin their coaxed by a voice that penetrates the midday quiet with a public address system.I start making your way now to the arena, please. Minneapolis all nation has the grand entry king bird soon. Most of the drummer's singers and dancers have reached the arena the drummer's sit in a circle and begin warming up the dancers from old men and women to young children begin to assemble at the East opening of the arbor, awaiting the grand entry as the Master of Ceremonies welcomes all who have come to the white Earth 14th of June pout for those of you that are here for the first time donut powwow. We want to welcome you we the people of the white Earth reservation. Extend to you the right hand of Fellowship. We hope that you have a good day with us We as Indian people. We love our ways. We love our traditional ways. They mean a lot to us. So ladies and gentlemen. our granny tree As you fall let her stand. The dancers enter the arbor. Let's Slowly by a man with a staff of eagle feathers. A bird is sacred to most Indian nations following him our bearers of the American and Canadian flags and then come the princesses of various reservations soon. The arena has exploded in color. There are the orange green and pink feathers on the bustles of the young men who are fancy dancers. There are the yellows blues and reds of women shawls. There are white tipped eagle feathers in headdresses and that white bone and leather breastplates of the men the older women wear Buckskin dresses with delicate beadwork and everyone is garnished with bells. Now, there are hundreds of dancers in the arena some dancing sedately others dipping and fainting and twisting with intricate footwork. It's a rich and wonderful sight and one of the drawers Indian people from hundreds of miles bill means is one of those who has come many miles. He's a su from the rosebud reservation in South Dakota. Who is deeply interested in the traditional ways of his people? He tells us about the significance of powwows and dancing for Indian people socially, they get together with your friends and relatives across the country made a lot of people that you met through the years different families. And of course as with all Indian dancing is spiritual reasons, as you're as old people have told me when I start to dance it each step that you take represents a prayer for one of your relatives. And then as you're dancing, you're actually telling sometimes a story about you family. That's something that happened to you as well as print at the same time on behalf of your family and your relative and I try to tell a story of Basically my travels to tell a story of my family relates to the Natural World, the spiritual significance of the powwow does not end with the dancing itself. It even extends to the circular shape of the arena in which the dancers move the circle has played a very important part in the life of the Indian throughout the years we believe in what is called a circle of life and that is how you treat somebody else. It's how it's going to come back to you or how you're going to be treated and then similar to what's known as the Golden Rule and white Society. This is the circle itself is I'm terms of almost every ceremony every religious event every social event always begins and ends in a circle. You see also for openings within this hybrid a Serena signifying the four directions which in in people view as For spirits that bring us the various things that help us in nature. And so we always acknowledge the four directions and all our spiritual and social events. So that's why the arena here is built in a circular fashion all who participate in the powwow do not see it in primarily spiritual terms in recent years Dance Competition has become a part of the powwow with winners in a number of different categories receiving Financial prizes for some it has become somewhat of a sport for Alice Redhawk. However, the powwow is most important for the friendships that are made and renewed as Indian people travel around the country attending the Gatherings some families attend powwows nearly every weekend during the summer Alice who is from The Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota has already this summer traveled with her family to Washington state for a powwow. But for Alice Red Elk dancing is also a tie to the traditions of her ancestors. My mom and my grandma were really they were heavy dancers, you know. And I used to really feel bad because my mom my grandmother had a traditional funeral. And I remember her saying that to me. You know, she said when I'm gone remember this song remember that song and I'll try to keep it up and don't let it die out and she said when I go I hope one of you grandchildren will inherit my dancing. She said it'll come to you one of these days. And then all of a sudden, you know, I just got that feeling and I remembered that my mom always wanted us to keep on and all my other sisters and brothers lost interest. They grew up moved to the cities and they you know, they just forgot about it. So then I remembered that. Mainly I wanted to keep on because of what they said. Although there are dozens of powwows all over the United States and Canada each summer. The 14th of June celebration has a special significance because it represents the rebirth of a traditional holiday for the people of whiter a holiday that's been forgotten for several decades white Earth tribal secretary Vernon bellacourt explains the significance of the 14th of June celebration in 1867 Chief bug Koenigsegg of the Mississippi band of the anishinaabe people or we call were commonly called Chippewa people negotiated with the federal government a treaty that reserved gawa Bobby Connie Cog or white Earth and in consideration of them reserving this land, they seated all the other lands in. Round Brainerd Minnesota around Crow Wing. It's called Nisswa old agency. I'll to Wisconsin Michigan up into Fond du Lac and up into Grand Portage up in Lake Superior region that June 14th or before that of course Chief were banach way or chief whitecloud of the Pillager band of Chippewa people along with 200 of these people came here by wagon and buggy and many of them walked to this sacred land which they called White Earth or gawa Bobby Kahn ACOG and the following year on June 14th, 1868. They gathered their people in a place to pay thanks to the Manitou the great spirit to celebrate to hold a feast and to just to show that they were thankful for this. This new nation that that their Chiefs had reserved that became a tradition on down through the years. We don't know and have any history that it was ever disrupted or or that it had ever missed a year is but we do know that possibly in the first world war and the second world war. They stopped at during those period of times in honor of our in our men and our women who are serving in the armed forces. Nonetheless. We are still thankful for what we have and of course where we brought about a rebirth of our June 14 celebration, there are several efforts to bring it back in the last few years, but I think last year it really started to come back strong. And of course as you can see, it's very well attended this year. The only Court who is a national leader for the American Indian movement says the 14th of June celebration at White Earth is just one example of a Resurgence in Indian culture. That's bringing American Indians. Back from the brink of cultural destruction. We all means agrees. It said amongst our people at the drum that you hear is is the heartbeat of Indian nations that long as you hear that drum sounds you hear the songs of our people they always be in it.