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Rhythm of the heart: Spring Pow Wow

Illustration by Michael Edwards/Clarion

Illustration by Michael Edwards/Clarion

Michael Edwards, Illustrator

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The hallways are going to sound a little different Saturday, April 22, like the school suddenly grew a colossal heart, booming with excitement from its chest cavity, the Redsten Gym. But it will not be the school’s heart that’s beating, it will be something much older.

Time to open the gym doors and let loose a gale of song, dance, and color; the Madison College student groups’ United Common Ground and the Native American Student Association are sponsoring a pow wow, and you are invited.

Pow wows are many things for many people. Some people go to renew and celebrate their connection with their cultural roots. For NASA Outreach Officer Mary Ann Wildcat, an Ojibwe student of the Liberal Arts interested in graphic design, they are social gatherings where she can catch up with family and friends she grew up with.

The drum band Pipestone from the Lac Courte Oreillies Ojibwe Tribe, known for their comedic touch, will be the head drum. Tomahawk Circle of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe and the Ho Chunk Station Singers will co-drum. Other bands have been invited as well. They will play frequent intertribal songs where everyone is welcome to dance, as well as traditional songs, intermixed with modern compositions performed with varying degrees of personal flair.

And even though there will be more spoken languages than you can count, all songs are performed for everyone’s appreciation. Many are sung with no lyrics at all.

As pronounced as the music is, it is only a fraction of what makes the pow wow extraordinary. Beautiful embroidery and vivid colors are worn on the regalia of many dancers. The master of ceremonies, Artley Skenandore of the Oneida Nation, will inform the audience of the different categories of dance and regalia.

There are traditional dances and dress, as well as modern fancy dances with bright vivid colors and extra flair. The latter style of dance is much faster and energetic, and to prove their skills, dancers must come to a sudden halt at the end of each song. Sometimes the drummers get a little tricky and end the song abruptly.

There is also an interesting men’s grass dance that reenacts fields of grass blowing in the wind. The women’s jingle dress dances are remarkable for the large number of small metal tinkler cones attached to the dresses, allowing each footstep to chime along to the rhythm of the beat.

Some of the specific accessories and colors of regalia may have special meanings, which may or may not be known to anyone outside or even inside their own tribe, and others are designed purely for personal aesthetic.

Shane Mitchell from the Lac du Flambeau and Michelle Reed of the Menominee are the two featured head dancers. Brian Jackson, also of the Lac du Flambeau, will serve as arena director, making sure everything runs smoothly.

Pow wows also give thanks and tribute to veterans. Native Americans have the highest percentage of veterans among all ethnicities in the United States, and the biggest honor given at any pow wow is always sung to the warriors. Eagle staffs are displayed during the Flag Song, which are equivalent to national flags. The song is a national anthem. Every feather on each individual staff represents the legacy of its community and heritage.

Melissa Doud, Sergeant First Class, will be honored as this year’s head veteran. She has served in the Army for 27 years and counting.

To help cover cost, the admission price is $5. This will get you all-day access and a plate at the 5 p.m. feast. You will get your fill of turkey, cranberries, corn, mashed potatoes, and fry bread biscuits. And if that does not satisfy your palate, fry bread served with taco fixings can be found at the concession stand across from the gym. There will also be a raffle and a silent auction featuring items donated from local businesses and native art. Hand-made crafts, jewelry, and more will be sold at booths.

The Madison College Pow Wow is just one of many held throughout the state of Wisconsin every year. The UW-Madison recently held its spring pow wow at the beginning of the month. The Ho Chunk will host one on both Memorial and Labor Day weekends outside Black River Falls. Milwaukee will be the center for two pow wows later in the season, one the weekend after Labor Day and another over the second to last weekend of October. The Red Cliff Band near the Apostle Islands host one the first weekend of July, and the Lac Courte Oreillies Ojibwe hold another two weeks later in Hayward.

So, come on down and let the beat of the drum possess your heart and fill it with joy. Experience a multitude of cultures older than time and fresher than the spring rain. It is all happening at the Truax campus this Saturday, April 22 from 1 to 9 p.m.

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Rhythm of the heart: Spring Pow Wow