“To me the Wacipi has multiple layers of importance. On one hand, it’s a healing opportunity to address and remember the Dakota 38 and the U.S.-Dakota war, so it’s a community healing event. At the same time, it’s an educational opportunity for community members and our students to come and be exposed to a different culture, to hear some of the language and to give back by volunteering,” said Dr. Chelsea Mead.
Mead is an instructor in the American Indigenous Studies program at MNSU, Mankato. She also doubles as a Linguistic Anthropologist for the Anthropology Department.
Reading the event program, Powwow, or Wacipi (pronounced Wa-chee-pee), in the Dakota language translates to “dancers” in English. This past weekend’s Wacipi, as mentioned by Dr. Mead, also celebrates the local Native American people’s community as old friends and families reunite after traveling throughout the region participating in various powwows.
It’s also important to note that the event also acknowledges the 265 Dakotas that were saved by President Abraham Lincoln, as recounted by Scott W. Berg’s 38 Nooses.
I volunteered as security for the event on Saturday. I was assigned to work with Leo Sterry, a Native and US Marine Corps Veteran. He was stationed in Camp Pendleton and Okinawa, Japan.
“I’ve been doing this for 26 years. Been helping out the veterans for 23 years,” said Sterry. By helping out, he means participating in various Powwows.
As security, we ensured no fighting took place and no alcohol or drug use. There were five volunteer MNSU Mankato students who served as security for our shift. Their primary objective was to be a presence, to deter any sort of foul play, profanity or disrespectful gestures near the arena, which is blessed before dancing takes place and considered sacred ground.
The day’s events began at 9 a.m. “when they raise the flags; the American, Canadian and POW flags,” explained Sterry.
While raising the flags “they play the drums and flag songs. As well as veteran songs. Anyone who has been in the military or has a relative in the military, can come out and do a dance for the veteran songs,” said Sterry. The natives take the flags down at 5 p.m., the same time as most military bases.
The main attraction of the day was the Grand Entry. Sterry described that the veteran songs are played during this segment. The Native American U.S. Military Veterans dressed in their respective uniforms from the eras they served in and fell into formation at the very front of the Grand Entry assembly.
The Native Veterans in full military dress, served once more, this time as flag bearers. Sterry carried the American flag, his peers the Canadian, POW/MIA, and staffs. The eagle staffs of the represented tribes and/or family members present at the Powwow. An eagle staff is the equivalent of a state or national flag.
The remaining category dancers fell into formation behind the Native Veterans, men first, then women and finally children. Category dancers are dressed in varying styles of regalia. Regalia is the material, theme and comprehensive outfit individual dancers are dressed in.
All guests, visitors and Native’s alike stood during the Grand Entry Ceremony, which lasted nearly thirty minutes.
Two emcees hosted the event and notified the guests and public of the incoming songs and introduced the dancers and dances in both the Dakota and English language. During the inter-tribal songs, any guest or general public visitor could enter the arena and dance. And many did including children and parents.
Visitors had many learning and cultural exposure opportunities besides the arena display of flags, tribal and inter-tribal dances. The Education Tent which was strategically placed as the first attraction exhibited features from the Blue Earth County Historical Society, Minnesota Historical Society, Nicollet County Historical Society, Southern Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Jeffers Petroglyphs. It also held “community elders speaking about topics related to the historical area,” as the program guide read.
Food vendors outlined the perimeter, providing guests with several yet seemingly similar dishes to choose from, hand crafted memorabilia and a Native American literature tent as well.
One vendor stood out: “Mr. Hustle Tribe.” A clothing vendor with a dollar sign for the “S” and a tomahawk for the “T’s” in its name. This particular vendor embraced the controversial subject of state and local sports teams having Native American monikers as their names. Minnesota sports teams shirts were its’ main attractions. A Twins shirt was hung behind its cashiers till, with the patented “C” and a graphic tomahawk for the “T.” A Minnesota Vikings purpled shirt with the trademarked emblem modified with the standard chieftan feathers was among them as well.
One food vendor, Little Winds, succumbed to fire damage, which rendered the vendor inoperable for the duration of my assigned security shift. Its popularity, which was axiomatic, helped in manufacturing a quick recovery. As I was completing my roving rounds, the vendor employees were operating out of an adjacent tent and most likely served customers during the evening hours.
Megan Heutmaker spoke of the Education Day, held on Friday. “Education day hosts all of the local Mankato area school sixth graders. The day is reserved for education with Native people who have a specialty in a certain craft like story-telling, teepees, history, culture, things like that. So the sixth graders get to have a hands-on experience with a Native teaching an area of expertise.”
Heutmaker is the Director for American Indian Affairs and staffs the multicultural center at MNSU. Her students occupied a booth at the outside perimeter to the arena. The students and Heutmaker were representing the MNSU American Indigenous Studies program.
Heutmaker serves on the Powwow Committee and helps with public relations. She coordinated the efforts for the education day as she described above.
The American Indigenous Studies (AIS) program currently enrolls 75 American Indian students who self-identify, which is a growth from last year’s 63.
“They’re doing some really great activities on campus and will have lots of events coming up for this year,” said Heutmaker.
“November is Native American heritage month, so we’ll have pretty much one activity every week. We’ll have a kickoff November first in the multicultural center. We’ll also have our big event which is our Native American Indian Night on Nov. 16. We have an indigenous film series that we’ll be showing the week before that. We’ll also be hosting a real Thanksgiving dinner the Monday before Thanksgiving break,” said Heutmaker.
Liz Murphy, an alumni from the (AIS) program, “I think you should definitely come, if you’ve never been. It is a once in a lifetime experience, it’s a unique experience. And if you do attend just be culturally sensitive, be respectful, be open-minded and have fun.”