Traditions live on

BARAGA Arlene Kashata remembers a time in her youth, in the ’50s, when Native American drumming, dancing and lifestyle were repressed by mainstream American society. Now, when she teaches Native traditions to her grandchildren, or brings them to Pow Wows throughout the Midwest, she does so with pride.

“It’s our way of life, who we are,” she said Saturday at the 36th annual Keweenaw Bay Maawanji’iding, or Pow Wow, at the Ojibwa Campground in Baraga. “I think we’re having a real resurgence of pride, dignity and sovereignty.”

Hundreds of Natives from Midwestern and Canadian tribes and nations gathered at the Maawanji’iding Friday through Sunday, as well as plenty of non-Natives eager to experience the dancing and drumming, and to check out the native crafts, fry bread and other delicacies available from a variety of vendors.

For many, it’s a place to reconnect with family and friends, as well as with traditions. Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member Betty Szaroletta remembered unexpectedly running into cousins from Cincinnati at the Maawanji’iding two summers ago.

Bob Williams, a traditional dancer from the Lac de Flambeau Ojibwa who said he’s been following the Pow Wow trail for 40 years, had both children and grandchildren with him Saturday and said he sees other family at each stop.

“Every rez we go to we have family and friends,” he said.

These days, younger generations are embracing Native traditions, said Kashata, who hails from the Grand Traverse Band of Anishinabe near Traverse City. That includes her grandson Jerdan Wilson, 6, who’s happy to explain his Pow Wow participation.

“I’ve always been a grass dancer,” Wilson said. “I like to drum, too.”

Kashata said when she puts on her own jingle dress and dances at Pow Wows, “I get energized, remember who I am, Anishinabe, and take that energy into the week.”

She goes to as many Pow Wows as she can each summer, but the Maawanji’iding is one of her favorites, she said.

“It’s a beautiful Pow Wow. Traditional… Good people, good food, and good songs,” she said.

Crystal Cornelius, an Iroquois from Oneida, Wisconsin who was running her mother Noreen’s fry bread concession, said she liked the wooded setting of the Maawanji’iding.

“Even when the sun’s out it’s cool, unless you’re next to the hot stove,” she said.

Cornelius said the stand is staffed almost exclusively by family, enough that Noreen had sent them on during a weekend she had to stay home for health reasons. While the adults mostly focused on business, the youth in the family all danced and drummed while learning the family’s recipes.

At the Maawanji’iding, “the kids won the youth fry bread award,” Cornelius noted proudly.

The theme of this year’s Maawanji’iding was Honoring the Drum, and there were prizes for the best drums, or groups of men who gather around a single sacred drum to sing and play. There were special dances for jingle dress, men’s woodland, blue shawl and pink shawl, as well as the Midnight Two-Step Championship of the World. There were also plenty of intertribal dances, where everyone, non-Natives included, shared the sacred circle and felt the beat of the drums.

There was also time set aside to announce Miss Keweenaw Bay for 2014 – Kayla Dakota, a student at L’Anse High School and member of the host KBIC and to honor veterans of the U.S. armed forces, who also served as the color guard for the weekend’s four Grand Entries, when all native dancers ceremonially enter the circle together.

KBIC member and Korean War veteran Pete Shelafoe said the Keweenaw Bay Maawanji’iding was one of the first Pow Wows to honor veterans, a practice that has since spread. He noted that more Natives, percentage-wise, have served in the armed forces than any other group.

“I think all of our veterans have been proud to serve our country,” he said, noting that “We were the first ones here.”