I arrived in time for the Grand Entry. Five groups of drummers encircled the arena, and each group consisted of 8 or 9 men around a single drum. The different groups took turns offering songs, which consisted of unison singing and all the drummers beating the drum together. For the Grand Entry, a community elder led the procession. As he danced along, the flags and staffs of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the United States, Canada, US Army, US Navy and more were carried in honor. Then came dancers in ceremonial dress and many more dancers—and all moved behind the elder at his speed, dancing steadily along. In my culture, I can’t think of a time when we give an elder the place of honor like that.
After the Grand Entry, I witnessed many dance competitions in categories by age and type of dance: Women’s Traditional; Women’s Jingle Dress Dance; Men’s Grass Dance; Men’s Fancy and more. I was amazed at the energy and footwork of the dancers and at their regalia. I can only guess at the hours of time put into each outfit and the spiritual meanings of the feathers, symbols and colors that adorn them. According to the program, for instance, “The women’s jingle dress dancers wear cloth dresses that contain 365 small metal cones, a prayer for each day,” and there is an Ojibwe legend that connects the dress to healing a village of sickness.
Intertribal dances were interspersed throughout the Pow wow also, when anyone and everyone was invited to dance, and people came out with babies and children, dressed in everyday clothes or intricate traditional garb.
I am still processing everything that I saw and felt at this Pow wow. The piercing ring of the songs is in my head, and the drum beats that make everyone want to move. I am still reflecting on an ancient culture passed down and alive today in this form, a culture indigenous to this place where I now make my home, and where my people are relative newcomers. I know that I want to come again, to experience again the reverence and the joy and to keep learning about native culture. I already have July 29-31 marked on my calendar, when the next Pow wow will be held in Mount Pleasant.
Great Spirit, spirit of the dancers and the drummers, spirit of those who attend the Pow wow as spectators and those who live and breathe it, send your blessing. Bless the dancers and the drummers, bless the vendors and the announcers, bless the elders and the children.
May this Pow wow, and the next one, and the next, be a vehicle for living tradition, a place of reverence for the past, an embodiment of joy and of the fierce spirit of survival.
May it be so.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
March 24, 2022
I will be away next week for spring break. Look for the next Minister's Column on Thursday April 7.