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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 6, 2004 - Issue 108


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Pow wows keep tribes in step with past

by Tom Klein - Timberjay (MN) News

Traditional DancerSix-year-old Allaura LeGarde stood patiently as her mother Rachel finished braiding her hair.

But the moment she was free to dance, Allaura leaped and twirled with joyful abandon.

“Our children have been dancing since they were born,” said Rachel, who was with her husband Patrick and five children at the Bois Forte Mid-Winter Pow Wow last weekend.

The LeGardes, members of the Grand Portage band, came from Minneapolis for the pow wow. “It’s part of the Pow Wow Trail,” explained Rachel. “We travel all year long going to different pow wows around the state.”

She added that the family enjoys the trips to Nett Lake and said the great people in the tiny community make the pow wow special. “They’re very hospitable,” she said.

Many were enjoying that hospitality over the weekend, with dancers arriving from across the Midwest and Canada for the pow wow. Dayshun Goodsky, who co-chaired the pow wow, said so many arrived that some community members opened their homes to accommodate the travelers.

Turnout for the pow wow over the weekend was strong, Goodsky said. But while the pow wow provides a shot in the arm economically for Nett Lake and nearby Orr, Goodsky said the purpose for the dances goes much deeper. It’s about preserving culture.

“We’ve only got three male dancers in Nett Lake,” said Goodsky, who added that more women dancers in the community are helping keeping the tradition alive. It’s important to celebrate Bois Forte’s heritage, Goodsky said, or the band could lose contact with its past. As part of that effort, Bois Forte established a heritage center near the Fortune Bay Casino. Meanwhile, Karen Drift is doing her part by offering language lessons in Ojibwe.

Goodsky wants to see more of the band’s youth embrace the past. Although some young people attended the pow wow over the weekend, Goodsky said he’d like to reach out to others by conducting a pow wow at Orr School and said Principal John Metsa has been supportive of the idea.

In addition, Goodsky hopes to obtain funds from the Reservation Tribal Council that could be used to purchase pow wow outfits and start a program that would teach tribal members how to create pow wow outfits.

According to Goodsky, some trace the word pow wow to the Algonquin word pauau, meaning a gathering of people to celebrate an important event. Pow wows were traditionally held in the spring to celebrate the new beginning of life, he explained. It was a time for people to get together, sing and dance, renew old friendships and make new ones.

Pow wows had cultural significance also; they were an opportunity for families to hold naming and honoring ceremonies. In the Anishinabe tradition the celebration constituted a thanksgiving to Gih-Zhe Manitou, The Great Spirit.

Today, the pow wow season can begin as early as the beginning of the New Year and continue through September.

Pow wows continue to be spiritually important to the Anishinabee. Even the drums used to provide a beat for the dancers have special significance.

Goodsky said that some drum groups have gone through ceremonies and had their drums blessed and named. “The drum is regarded as a man with its own powerful spirit.” he said. “Gifts are made to the drum and some drums even have their own sacred medicine pipes. In some traditions the drum symbolized the heartbeat; in others, the powerful medicine of thunder.”

The outfits worn for the dance also have cultural and spiritual ties. A good example is the jingle dress. The Ojibwa, at White Fish Bay, Ontario, claim to be the original home of the jingle dress. According to Goodsky, an Ojibwe Nation man was instructed in a dream to make four dresses trimmed with tin cones or jingles. With his wife as a helper, they made the dresses and selected four women to wear them at the next dance.

Another tale is told at the Mille Lacs Minnesota Ojibwa Reservation about a man’s dream to aid his sickly granddaughter, Goodsky said. The man was given specific directions for the construction of the dress and the dance. After the girl performed the dance in her special dress, she gained back her health.

Yet another story says that a family group was in the bushes picking berries. “A daughter-in-law wore this musical dress to warn her father-in-law of her presence. Traditionally, in-laws avoid each other out of respect and to prevent difficulties,” Goodsky explained.

Over the years, other traditions — such as the Grand Entry — have been added to pow wows, but the purpose — bringing families together and honoring Anishinabee culture — has remained consistent.

Those are the elements that draw Lester Drift Jr., a Bois Forte member who now lives in Michigan, back to Nett Lake year after year.

“It’s a hometown pow wow,” said Drift, who said the event gives him an opportunity to connect with family, close friends and the community.

“I came here to get down,” said Drift as his wife Francis adjusted his headdress. “The drums are really decent and the people are just awesome.”

Those seeking more information on pow wows can read Dayshun Goodsky’s report on pow wow’s history and importance in culture on the Internet at

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