Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pow Wow: Dance for Mother Earth

This weekend (April 5), Sisterdoc and Brotherdoc attended the 36th Annual “Dance for Mother Earth” Ann Arbor Pow Wow. It was our first Pow Wow. We had an enjoyable, educational time.

And, it was not without its controversy.

First, the fun and educational: There was well over 1000 Native Americans participating in this Pow Wow. The People of the Three Fires—the Ojibwa, Odawa, and Bodewadimi—were particularly well represented. According to our program, “the modern day Pow Wow evolved from the Grass Dance Societies that formed during the early 1800s. The dances were an opportunity for the warriors to reenact their brave deeds for all the members of the tribe to witness.”

The Pow Wow ritual had specific parts to it. There was the “Grand Entry,” which marks the beginning of the Pow Wow. Here, every participant dancer, in full regalia, lines up and proceeds forward. A Head Dancer leads the multitude of tribes, all with their unique dance styles, through the entry. Other parts were the Drum Roll Call, Tiny Tot Exhibition, and Exhibition Dancing.

Sisterdoc also enjoyed the “Intertribals.” These dance sessions permitted people of different Native nations to share the dance floor—I can’t describe how beautiful this was, both visually and spiritually (such unity!). There was also “Contest Dancing” in which the dancers were divided into categories by age and style. For example, there was “Women’s Jingle Dress,” “Men’s Fancy” (a crowd favorite), “Men’s Traditional,” “Women’s Fancy Shawl,” and so on.

Now, for the controversy: This Pow Wow was held indoors at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Arena (where the basketball games are held). This made for a slightly tense Pow Wow this year because 1,390 tribal ancestral remains are being held by the University of Michigan in “boxes, drawers, and filing cabinets.” Obviously, the various Nations want the remains back. A peaceful awareness raising protest was part of this year’s Pow Wow. The remains were uncovered from various burial sites (construction dig sites to U of M). U of M says they get to keep the remains because they are “culturally unaffiliated” under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Sisterdoc noted that U of M President Coleman did not address/clarify the remains issue, but she did pay a very nice tribute to Irving “Hap” McCue (1933-2008). Hap taught UM students the Ojibwe language for over 35 years.

This annual event is beautiful, humbling, and enlightening.

Image: Geezhig Bressette, age 11, of the Ojibwe tribe in Sarnia Ontarioat performs a ceremonial dance at the Ann Arbor Pow Wow in Crisler Arena on Saturday. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/DAILY)

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