Telling The Real Stories

22nd annual spring powwow tradition back to Halenbeck

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Veteran holding a variety of flags and Eagle Staff at the 22nd annual spring powwow.
Veteran holding a variety of flags and Eagle Staff at the 22nd annual spring powwow.

Halenbeck filled its gym last Saturday, April 11, with an Arbor housing drum groups, a variety of vendors, spectators from around the area and a variety of American Indian dances.

The first grand entry began with a Native American prayer led by Spiritual Leader Murphy Thomas, followed by hand drum performances by members of the Battle River drum group as well as the Red Tree drum group. Afterwards, a diverse group of dancers made their way around the drummers, led by Head Dancers Patty Sam and Micheal Diver. The powwow featured a hand drum contest, Sam and Diver dancing, with drum groups Battle River and Red Tree. Spiritual Leader Murphy Thomas spoke to the audience, sharing prays with those in attendance. Dancers took to the gym floor, moving along to the beats and songs by the drum groups, and MC Keveon Kingbird led the powwow through the night by narrating and sharing information about the various dances and dancers. 

“Dancing means to me, is a connection to the earth,” said Mathew Northrup, a Grad Student at St. Cloud State University as well as a Native American of the Fond Du Lac Reservation.

“You feel the drum, you feel the beat when you’re going around, sometimes you actually see someone drumming with a child in their hand, because that beat, that heart beat that we had inside our mothers womb, the heart beat we have with the earth, its that connection with it.”

Traditionally, men are the ones who sit at the drum. The Director of the Multicultural Resource Center Darlene St. Claire explained that because women have the potential to give birth, they possess an automatic connection to Mother Earth.

“Men don’t have that connection, so by sitting at the drum, they are able to build that relationship with Mother Earth,” St. Claire said.

Dressed in traditional dress, feathers swayed and bounced with the music that rang through the gym. During some dances, including the Veteran and Friendship dance, people from the audience were invited to the floor. Students, faculty and community members were also welcome during the open dances.

Moving through the day, buffalo and wild rice was served around 5 p.m. After the meal, the gym grew quiet as people began leaving. People came and went as the powwow continued into the evening.

The second grand entry started just after 7 p.m. with veterans and dancers baring flags, dancing around the Arbor as the drum groups played. Making their way around a number of times, the stopped in front of the stage, holding Eagle Staffs and the various flags tall for a prayer and address by Thomas.

Veterans, who lead the grand entry, carry the Eagle Staff. The staff is a native flag made with dyed eagle feathers. The leading veterans will be dressed in either traditional or camouflage clothing. Dancers will follow, then royalty.

Eagle feathers are considered to be very special, said St. Claire. She explained that if an eagle feather ever touches the ground, the result is not good.

“If an eagle feather fall off an outfit – it is not good. The arena director will stop the powwow, and they will have to have people come and get that feather back,” said St. Claire. “The association is that they have a spiritual power, not just anyone can pick it up off the ground. You have to be proven brave.”

St. Claire explained that typically veterans would be the ones who retrieve the feather. They dance and pray around the feather to have the ability to pick it up off the ground. She said it is very important that dancers have their feathers properly attached, and they should not be touched without permission.

Then, around 7:30 p.m., the “Potato Dance” gave participants a chance for a light-hearted contest where two dancers were to balance a potato with their foreheads. Without using their hands, participated moved to the beating drums, and one by one, potatoes hit the floor until the remaining pair claimed their win.

After the dance, the director came to the stage around 8 p.m. to introduce a tradition in many Native American cultures of sharing gifts toward the end of the powwow. A number of gifts were laid on a blanket. Nearly everybody at the powwow lined up and accepted a gift. After taking their gift, people stayed lined up so everybody who accepted a gift could shake each other’s hand. A giveaway song followed, and as people moved along the gym floor, they held their gifts high to the ceiling to show gratitude for their gifts.

St. Claire explained that traditionally, if one receives a gift at the giveaway, they are expected to participate in the honors dance that occurs afterwards.

During the giveaway song, the gym sounded with singing and the pattering feet hitting the gym floor. Not long after, the powwow began closing down before 10 p.m.

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