Pow-wow helps bring generations together

BARAGA – Well into the evening Saturday, for nearly every song, Head Man Dancer Paul Smith danced a circle around the drums as they beat the traditional rhythms, hearing the songs sung in his native Ojibwe language.

He’d been at it since early in the day, as the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and guests celebrated the tribe’s 10th Winter Traditional Pow-Wow at the Niiwin Akeaa Community Center in Baraga.

“I was born doing all this stuff,” Smith said. “I was introduced to the culture as a youth and I believe it’s important to carry on the tradition, so now I do the same with my kids.

“It’s what gives the tribe and our community its identity.”

About 130 dancers registered at the pow-wow, along with six drums. A “drum,” in Ojibwe culture, includes the group of men who play a large drum – up to 10- as well as the instrument itself.

The pow-wow had a more local feel than the better known summer pow-wow, which brings drums and dancers from all over the region and beyond, but cultural committee chair Gerry Mantila said there were out-of-town visitors, and one drum traveled from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

Mantila said the winter pow-wow was a great chance for the community to come together to enjoy culture and traditions, as well as an opportunity to honor deserving elders, the growing Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and women’s cancer victims and survivors.

The cultural committee, she said, has been holding regalia classes for weeks to help young tribal members with their ceremonial pow-wow attire.

“That’s our main goal, to get the youth involved,” she said.

Rodney Loonsfoot sported some of the most impressive traditional regalia present, as well as a United States Marine Corps emblem on his chest. He led an honor guard of military veterans in the evening Grand Entry, and later explained that military veterans held a special place in Ojibwe culture.

“The warriors of our community are held in high esteem because they’re the protectors of the community, not just in wartime but in peacetime,” he said. “We’re expected to be makers of peace in all we do.”

The pow-wow and the culture it represents “is more than a social gathering – it’s a way of life,” said Loonsfoot, who also serves on the cultural committee.

“The thing is, I don’t dance for me, I dance for the people,” he said. “For the kids, for the elders in the spirit world, for our creator. I believe we’re all born to dance.”

“We’re a living culture, and we dance because this is who we are,” he added. “Without culture, we’re doomed. How can we identify with our creator without songs and dance? … If we didn’t have a culture, a source of identity, we’d be just another corporation.”