Powwow

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Lance Tallmadge, Ho Chunk:
This entire region that we’re viewing. This is pretty much the start of a very important area amongst Winnebago people. There was a large village located a few miles up river from us. Downstream there’s an ancient site that many of our people used for many of their ceremonies. The two elements of water and land, of rocks meeting, clashing here at this point. Very strong ties to this area for our Winnebago people.

Narrator:
Lance Tallmadge has a sense of the Winnebago people’s long history in Wisconsin. This seems to matter more than who owns what. Since reorganization in the 1960s, the Winnebago do own some tribal trust land in Wisconsin, currently about 900 acres. Much of this is near Black River Falls where they hold tribal powwows Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Tallmadge:
Our young traditional dancers [are] here making these final preparations for the powwow before the dancing begins. Putting on his eagle feather bustle. This is sort of what distinguishes our traditional dancers and their style of dance. Traditional male dancers interpret a story through their style of dance.

Narrator:
The powwows help keep the traditions alive. These were not frozen in time after Nicolet’s visit. Subsequent generations have often created their own variations.

Tallmadge:
We have all the categories here at this powwow. We’ll also be seeing our male fancy dancers—this is a contemporary style of dance. The dancers have a lot more freedom of expression of themselves through their dance and through the high stepping that they’ll be performing. Also we have male grass dancers, which is a style that originated amongst the tribes of the great northern plains. They pay honor to the four sacred winds and, as they dance about, the yarn or fringe hanging from their outfits is representative of the very grasses.

Narrator:
The dances are now often held as a contest with lucrative cash awards. This encourages beautiful regalia and inspired dancing.

Tallmadge:
We have women’s traditional. They dance very close to Mother Earth, always remaining in contact with Mother Earth. Also our women’s shawl dancers. This is the female counterpart of our male fancy dancers. This is also a contemporary style of dance for the women. The dance originated from the butterfly dance and the shawl represents the cocoon. And when their mate passed on, they would emerge from the cocoon and [this] symbolized new life and new freedom. So their style of dance is very expressive, using the shawl. Also we have our women’s jingle dress. This is the style of dance that is traditional amongst the Ojibwa, or Chippewa, people residing now in northern Wisconsin, Canada. The young woman had a dream. Her people had a sickness throughout the tribe and many people were dying. Then this young girl’s dream. She was instructed on how to make this particular style of dress. And as she danced with this dress after she had created it, it brought health back to the tribe, back to the Ojibwa people. Traditionally the dresses were made with the toes of deer, but today they use lids from tobacco cans. Lots of good activities going on along with the powwow. Many foods to sample, traditional foods. Fry breads, soups.

From Since 1634: In the Wake of Nicolet
Video courtesy of Ootek Productions, 1993

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