Spring trips to Phoenix, Albuquerque and Santa Fe — as well as the recent Kay WalkingStick exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute — have given me an even greater appreciation of Native American history and culture.
At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center I learned about the history, culture, and art of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. At the Acoma Pueblo — the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America — we chatted with artisans who are carrying on the traditions of their ancestors through their gorgeous pottery and with a college student whose family still maintains a home atop the sheer-walled, 367-foot sandstone bluff.
At the Heard Museum in Phoenix, I marveled at an art collection that includes Hopi katsina dolls, Navajo and Zuni jewelry, beautiful baskets and textiles and Southwestern ceramics dating from prehistoric times to the present.
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There were troubling displays as well. I’d known about the federally run Indian boarding schools and the laws that allowed Native children to be forcibly removed from their homes and families and sent to live in military-like conditions in an attempt to integrate them into American culture. These young people were stripped of their Native language, their customs, their Native clothing. It was so sad to learn about this history through the eyes of those who had actually been there.
I’m left with great admiration for people who honor the earth and every living thing.
Experiencing Native American culture here at home
Folks in our area needn’t head for the Southwest to have a contemporary Indian experience. Thanks to the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans and its annual “Keeping the Tradition Pow Wow,” families can learn more about Indian life and traditions through dancing, drumming, singing, crafts and stories.
This year’s Pow Wow is slated for Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25. It’s held at SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park in Dayton, where visitors can also learn about the Fort Ancient people who once lived along the Great Miami River.
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“For many in Ohio, this event represents one of the few opportunities they will get to experience an authentic American Indian event,” says SunWatch site manager Andrew Sawyer. “There are no reservations in our state and no Indian tribes currently present in Ohio. The tribes who are historically tied to Ohio — the Shawnee, Miami, Wyandot, Delaware and others — were forcefully removed from their homelands here in the 1830s and 1840s and sent to ‘Indian Territory’ in the west, in what would become Kansas and Oklahoma.”
Though tribes were officially removed from Ohio 170 years ago, the 2010 census reveals that 25,000 people who identify as Native American or Alaska Native call Ohio home. “Unfortunately I get the impression that a lot of people don’t realize that American Indian people are still a part of the United States,” says Sawyer. “They think they are all dead or gone somehow, but with events like this we get to show that not only are American Indian people still very much a part of the tapestry of the United States but they maintain a vibrant and active culture as well.”
Participants in the upcoming local Pow Wow will include Navajos from Arizona, Arapahos from Wyoming, Lakotas from South Dakota and Senecas from New York.
Daytonians with Native heritage are involved as well. Best known is Guy Jones, who’s been responsible for organizing the Pow Wow since its inception. Jones, 61, who grew up on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota and left two weeks after his graduation, came to Dayton in 1981. His commitment to educating others, he says, was a result of seeing a lot of prejudice over the years. “I lived in Oklahoma and worked various jobs and saw a lot of social injustice —people who didn’t like me, didn’t like blacks or Catholics or Jews.”
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Jones came to believe that a lot of the hatred was a result of ignorance. The Pow Wow, he says, seeks to demonstrate that there is beauty in each and every one of us that make up this American tapestry. Jones says he hopes that those who come to the Pow Wow begin to see and understand the beauty of the culture. “We’re just like everybody else, there’s nothing to fear,” he says.
He describes a Pow Wow as a celebration of life. “It’s fun and there’s a sharing as people listen to music and hear what each dance is about. Perhaps there will be a memorial song for someone who has recently passed away or walked on. You may see a member of our community who just had a birthday or a recent marriage or new baby. That’s the formation of a new family and families are important because that’s what makes community.”
Don’t be surprised to see Jones and his own family marking a special event: his new grandson, Sheridan, who will be attending his first Pow Wow. The baby can trace his roots back to the 2009 Dayton Pow Wow where his parents first met. His mother, Amy Carlson, was dancing a traditional Jingle Dress Dance at the time; his father, Steve, (Guy’s son) was at the Pow Wow with his family.
Carlson, 32, grew up knowing she was one-fourth Lakota and really became interested in her Indian heritage when she was in her ’20s. “I love the connection and veneration for the land; the culture is so earth-based,” she says. “I also love the strong connection of family and the importance of family.”
The couple has a four-year-old daughter who already loves Pow Wow music. ” We hope our children will want to pass on the traditions that are alive at this Pow Wow to their own children and grandchildren,” Carlson says.
Fun for families
Our local Pow Wow provides a great sampling of Native culture across-the-board. “It’s not specific to a particular tribe,” Carlson says. “And it’s not specific to the people who would have been in Ohio. It’s inter-tribal, people from a variety of cultures.” The event is mostly run by volunteers who each year construct an arbor — a structure made of locally harvested wood. No screws or nails are used and the structure provides shade for the elders and for the drum group.
The Pow Wow is also a great event for families. Kids can participate in inter-tribal song, everyone joins the circle, and the emcee offers explanations for everything taking place. A highlight of the event is the Grand Entry when all of the dancers enter the arena at the same time with various flags and staffs representing various nations and societies. “It’s a moment of pride and very festive,” says Jones.
Sawyer says the dancing is especially popular because visitors get to see different styles of dancing as well as a variation in the regalia worn by the performers. “There’s a valid reason for the regalia,” says Jones. “The dance regalias themselves are a badge of honor. People see a headdress and refer to it as a war bonnet, but these are not war bonnets. They are good deed bonnets. If you see someone with feathers, these feathers were given to them because they’ve done something honorable.”
Traditional foods include fresh roasted corn on the cob, bison burgers and Indian tacos. Craft vendors sell Native American jewelry, pottery, baskets, clothing items, leather goods and wood. Amy and Steve create corn jewelry using some of the corn harvested from the SunWatch community garden. The Native American Protection Act, Carlson explains, requires that if you are representing your craft or art as Native American, you have to be enrolled in a tribe.
Jones says representatives from Standing Rock will be at the Pow Wow this year to thank those from our area who supported them with regards to the construction of the Dakota access pipeline. “Native people oppose construction of the pipeline because of the risk to the water,” he says.
Says Carlson: “I think it’s great that we can take the local Native culture in this region — like the Indian mounds and SunWatch — and keep history alive in new and fresh ways at the Pow Wow. It’s cool to see how Native people are living their lives today.”
Want to learn more?
The Dayton Art Institute has just opened a gallery featuring Native American Art that includes examples of pottery, textiles, baskets and artwork from the Northwest Coast, the Plains, California, and the Ancient Eastern Woodlands and Midwest. The largest holdings come from the Southwest, an area with a high percentage of Native American artists. Tribes represented include Navajo, Pueblo, Hopewell, Zuni, Apache, Pima and Lakota.
You’ll find the new gallery just off the museum’s Great Hall. It was created with the assistance of Kay Koeninger, a professor of art history at Sinclair Community College.
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