Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Discovering Wisconsin: our first pow wow

On Saturday, Matt and I visited the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe reservation in NE Wisconsin in order to attend our first pow wow. It was amazing, and we already can't wait to go back. It's been a while since I've been completely in the minority on American soil, but this was such an occasion. Growing up in New England, I never met any Native Americans and never learned more in school beyond the elementary school basic curriculum (though I did read tons of biographies, but that's different.) Very fortunately for us, we had a cultural interpreter for the event; one of Matt's classmates (who actually identifies herself as Polish) is the school counselor there, and she explained what was going on. The event was a competition and lasted for the entire weekend, with categories for kids through seniors to compete. The regalia was absolutely incredible: bright colors, beadwork, feathers. I feel so fortunate to be able to attend and to learn.

The picture above shows women in jingle dresses. Originally each of those hanging jingling things were made from rolled lids of chew tobacco cans, though now you can buy them already rolled. Every step they make makes noise in a beautiful, dignified dance. I'm told that some regalia can weigh up to 90 pounds. After a woman starts her period, she is able to give life, which means (according to our interpreter) that she must stay connected to the earth by always keeping on foot on the ground. And so while little girls jump and skip and use their shawls like butterfly wings as they dance, a woman's dance looks much quieter (to me).

These pictures, I confess, are both borrowed from the internet, but they give you an idea of a little bit of what we saw. These feather bustles as well as feather headdresses, in addition to being just plain gorgeous, are worn because they obscure where the body is, making it harder for an enemy to shoot you. When you see these men whirling in dance, it's hard to tell where they are going and where, precisely, their bodies are.

Most of the dances kept my focus on the ground, with the dancers pressing their feet into the earth. The entire space felt so peaceful by the end. I literally felt my body slow, let go, relax. We were loathe to get back in the car and drive home to reality.

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