Sunday, November 02, 2003

Pow Wow
Yesterday, I spent most of my day at the 11th Annual Great Lakes Anishnaabek Traditional Pow Wow. Amy has just finished teaching our class a unit about indigenous groups, and I am just starting one on Hispanic-Americans, so this was a good opportunity to give our students the rest of their 10 supplemental out-of-class hours. I had never been to a Pow Wow before, so I was probably more excited to go than the students were.

We took the bus downtown to Lansing Community College. The Pow Wow was being held in the gymnasium, and on the way in, we passed a display of Day of the Dead decorations, so I took the opportunity to point them out to the students. We had arrived an hour before the Grand Entrance was schedule, in order to give the students the chance to look at all the vendors' stalls. The entrance was delayed by 45 minutes, perhaps owing to the MSU-UofM game traffic, so we had even more time than we thought. The vendors were selling dream catchers aplenty; drums; leather; beadwork; bone, stone, and silver jewelry; and woodwork.

Eventually, the Pow Wow got underway. The emcee of the event was an MSU student, so throughout the whole thing, we were updated on the score and asked to cheer for MSU. I think I was more aware of the game at the Pow Wow than I would have been at home. For the Grand Entrance, the drummers sat in a circle around a huge drum in the middle of the gym floor and began playing and singing. The entrance dance was led off by the flag bearers, two bearing eagle feather staffs, another with the US flag, and a fourth with the Canadian flag. Then followed the two lead dancers, the fancy dancers, and the traditional dancers. Then there was the Veteran's Song, to honor all the attending military veterans, Pow Wow participants and audience members alike. This was followed by an Intertribal, and everyone who wanted to was invited to dance. Several of our students joined in.

After a short break to give the drummers a break after singing for 30 minutes straight, the exhibition dancing started. First was the women's fancy dancing. There were only two fancy dancers there, it being a rather small Pow Wow, but several little girls joined in as well. The women's fancy dance is done with fringed shawls means to represent the wings of a butterfly, and is the most athletic women's dance. This was followed by the men's fancy dancing, for which there was only one dancer, but he was very impressive. The outfit has two bustles of feathers, one around the waist as in the traditional costume, but also with one on the dancer's back. This guy had to do all the dancing for the whole song, since he was the only one there, and it involved a lot of jumping and twisting and shaking to make the feathers move, so he looked pretty tired. The emcee said he had spotted some flaws, but it was okay, since this wasn't a judged competition.

Then came the jingle dance. The lead female dancer was a jingle dancer, and her outfit was very impressive, as was that of the other woman participating. Jingle dancers traditionally wear skirts or dresses with 365 metal cones sewn onto them. The jingle dance invovles a lot of bouncing movements to make all the cones rattle and ring. According to the program, only people who have had a dream about being a jingle dancer can be one. Each step of the dance is a prayer for a sick friend, relative, or tribal member, and they wave feather fans to waft away sickness.

The next dance was the grass dance. The grass dancers' outfits are decorated with very long yarn fringe hanging from their poncho-like top, the edge of the skirt, and the ends of their pants. They also wear bells on their ankles. The lead male dancer was a grass dancer, and he also had a neat feather headdress and a beaded headband that had double strands of beads hanging from it, running from the middle of his forehead, along his nose, and out across his cheeks, outlining his eyes, which was very neat. The grass dance is meant to mimic the movement of plains grasses waving in the wind.

This was followed by first the men's, and then the women's traditional dances. Each man dancing in the traditional dance is supposed to be reenacting a hunt or a vision of a hunt. The women's traditional dancers are considered to be the backbone of Native American traditions, and the dance is very sedate.

Our students weren't as interested in all the dances as I was, so Amy took some of them to the Children's Corner, where they got to make barrettes and keychains with feathers and beads. At 3, we led them all back to the bus, and made our way back into the madhouse of traffic surrounding the end of the football game. MSU lost.

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