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Pow Wow brings unity, visibility in Traverse City

Yasmin Alfonseca, 16, judges dancers in the Little Miss Wiigwaasmin and Wiigwaasmin Warrior dance competitions during Tuesday’s Kchi Wiikwedong Anishinaabek Pow Wow hosted by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians at the Pepsi Bayside Music Stage during the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City.
Jan-Michael Stump
/
Traverse City Record-Eagle
Yasmin Alfonseca, 16, judges dancers in the Little Miss Wiigwaasmin and Wiigwaasmin Warrior dance competitions during Tuesday’s Kchi Wiikwedong Anishinaabek Pow Wow hosted by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians at the Pepsi Bayside Music Stage during the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City.

Drums pound, jingle dresses live up to their name and more than 50 dancers of all ages make their way into the large tent.

But when the grand entrance came to a close, the National Cherry Festival annual Kchi Wiikwedong Anishinaabek Pow Wow on Tuesday had only just begun.

Pow wows are social celebrations when people come together to dance, socialize and enjoy each other’s company, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Cultural Department Manager Aaron Chivis said.

“Pretty much what happens is there’s different dance styles,” he said, and named the types of dances. “There’s traditional, we have grass, we have jingle and then fancy for both males and females.”

Dancers like Yasmin Alfonseca, 16, wore a “healing dress,” said Victoria Alfonseca, as she helped Yasmin get ready in a long, beaded dress adorned with colorful stripes, conical bells and cape, paired with moccasin shoes.

“It was gifted to us, to our people, to help heal,” Victoria said. “Each cone represents a prayer that, when she puts those on, she’s making a prayer for what she wants, whether it’s for somebody else or for herself.”

Yasmin’s hair was divided into two braids, made longer by the strips of otter pelt attached with leather straps.

“A lot of what Native Americans do is utilize the resources around them,” Victoria said. “Before colonization, we utilized otters and furs to keep us warm, so now we’re using it in a more contemporary way and using it to adorn ourselves.”

Susan Wilson, one of the native vendors, has been crafting and selling products with her mother at pow-pows around the state for more than 30 years. This is her first time at the Cherry Festival’s annual Pow Wow, she said, and she loved the opportunity to share her culture with the people who come through.

Wilson handmakes dream catchers and paints the lettering on boards that say things like “aanii boozhoo,” a greeting in Ojibwe.

“We take a lot of pride and we enjoy sharing, because from the teaching of the elders is that ‘we need to share,’” she said. “Share our values, our learning, our traditions and stuff because it’s for everybody.”

Leilani Defoe, a dancer with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, also said the pow-wows are an opportunity to be visible to the community.

“I think the key takeaway is that we’re able to practice our culture,” Defoe said. “Because at one point in time it was illegal for us to be able to dance, pray, to have ceremonies.

“So coming here and just knowing that we’re here and still practicing our culture (is important).”

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians invited groups from Sault Ste. Marie, Mount Pleasant, Grand Rapids and more to participate.

“It’s like a celebration, just visiting each other, seeing people you haven’t seen in a while and also honoring our culture and being able to represent all of these different dance categories,” Defoe said. “It’s a place of unity and happiness.”

Lauren Rice is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
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