Indigenous tribes celebrate tradition, support Oglala Lakota at powwow

Sep 20, 2014

At an All Nations Powwow at the Portal Institute in Susquehanna, Pa., tribes of Native Americans from across the United States gathered to celebrate their traditions and support a struggling tribe. The pow wow is put on as a benefit for the Lakota people from South Dakota.

Tribes from all over the eastern United States and Midwest were gathered in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods.

A string of male and female dancers in vivid color step and bounce in time to the drum.

Catrine Moore is from the Onondaga Nation and brings up the rear of the train of dancers. Her turquoise shawl catches the wind with each step. Moore kicks and jumps. Her braids whip in time to the beating drum off to the side. The drum looks like a flattened cask. The top is cinched with hide.

“The drum represents the beating of the heart of Mother Earth, so it kind of helps you connect with your spirit and soul and sense of community with other people.”

One of the ten men pounding on the drum is Robert Boldeagle. He’s Mayan and Cherokee and says the chant is meant to draw in all native people.

“To us, the drum is like medicine. It opens our hearts, it opens our soul. When we drum, we know our ancestors spirits are drumming with us. We know that the ancestors are dancing with this.”

Before the next dance, Lori Hawk closes her eyes as she plays one of her three Indian flutes. Hawk is from the Eastern Delaware and Métis of Canada nations. The Metis are a mixed race tribe from Canada. They’re descended from Native Americans who married Europeans and established separate communities mainly in south central Canada.

All the money from admissions and raffles is being donated to the Lakota people from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. In the 1870s, Pine Ridge was the site of Custer’s Last Stand. And the military took revenge, slaughtering 250 mostly unarmed Lakota at Wounded Knee. Today, the reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States.

“My name is Stacy Makes Good. I’m from the Pine Ridge reservation. My Indian name is Ta Kola Cou Ota. It means ‘has a lot of friends.’”

Stacy Makes Good drove a car full of those friends from his reservation through the night to dance in the pow wow. For him, traveling to dance is in the spirit of his people.

“We’re called a nomadic tribe. We follow the buffalo around, so I guess that spirit carried on over. I follow the buffalo, kind of like follow the powwow. Following the whole spirit.”

Makes Good is in his fifties, with soft features and deep brown eyes. He’s traveled to dance in powwows since he was a teenager, the age of many of the other dancers. Makes Good sits off by himself before he starts to put on his regalia. He ties leather bands of bells to his ankles and waist.

“We are the buffalo people and this buffalo dance was given to us by the buffalo. They call us their brothers and when we’re going to hunt buffalo, we do this dance to give thanks for hunting the buffalo and they give us good success. Today, it’s a special ceremony, but we bring it into the pow wow to let it be seen and recognized that as a buffalo nation people we’re still here. We’re still surviving.”

He mounts a buffalo hide with black pointed horns on his head and dances into the circle.