Sunday, September 20, 2015


I spent three hours at my first pow wow ever. The Mahkato Wacipi is held in Mankato every year and has been since the early 70s. Why I have never gone is a mystery. I knew people who went but my thinking was that it was a Native event and that I would not be particularly welcome there. I was so wrong.

Ella and I arrived in time for the opening ceremony.
The Wacipi begins with the Grand Entry of all the dancers entering the arena. Leading the Grand Entry are the flag bearers. These flags may include the eagle staffs of various tribes and families in attendance, US flag, tribal flags, service flags and the P.O.W. flag. Flags are usually carried by veterans. Native Americans hold the United States flag in an honored position. For us, the US flag has two meanings. First, it is a way to remember all of the ancestors that fought against this country. Second, it also reminds people of those people who have fought for this country. 
An eagle staff consisting of 38 eagle feathers was made by Glynn Crooks (Dakota) in 1979. Each feather commemorates one of the 38 Dakota executed in Mankato on December 26, 1862. It also commemorates those veterans who have served in times of conflict. 
Following the flagbearers are other important guests of the Wacipi including tribal chiefs, elders, and royalty. Next in line, are the men dancers followed by the women dancers, then the children. Once everyone is in the arena, the entrance song ends. The entrance song is immediately followed by a song to honor the flag and a song to honor the veterans. This is followed by an invocation.
This was one of the most moving and poignant things I have witnessed. I wept and held Ella closely. The drums were powerful, the dresses (they are called regalia, not costumes) were colorful and beautiful and in many cases made their own kind of music, and the dancing was gentle but dramatic.

I was touched by the welcoming spirit of the speeches and the invocation. The Dakota people are forgiving and compassionate.

We spent a couple hours at the Nicollet County Historical Society table in the education tent who had displayed a series of panels called Commemorating Controversy. I was a little nervous about that part because controversy is not one of my strengths. I avoid it like the plague. But everyone who stopped to visit was very friendly and complimentary of the display.

And, the connections. I can't tell all the stories here because they are not mine to tell, but I met a man who told me about the Renville Rangers and his family's part in that group. He told me how his great great grandfather came to this country from Ireland. He told me the role his great grandfather played in the conflict.

It seemed like everyone I met knew someone else I knew, knew the person I had just talked to, knew someone else they knew...the air was blue with those connections. I met a man from North Dakota who is related to the family of my cousin in Arizona. Of all the people I could have stopped to photograph. I took a stunning photo of him in his regalia but I am uncomfortable posting I said...not my story.

This afternoon, Kathryn and I went on a story hunting mission to one of the assisted living facilities in St. Peter. We had five participants this week...and we heard amazing stories of being kidnapped at age two, being dumped by a husband after a diagnosis, we heard beautiful poetry recited from memory, we heard the story of a brother's suicide and the dark writing the family found after his death. Incredibly personal and touching stories.

Ella was with me when I heard the stories about the conflict. I told her I would write them down so she can read them when she studies Minnesota history in 6th grade. I didn't want her to be fearful so I reminded her that some of those things happened more than a hundred years ago. I know, she said. She is a good listener!

No comments: