The dance arena is full during the grand entry dance at the Winnebago Pow Wow.
Winnebago Pow Wow Celebrates Native Traditions
“Today is a good day. I am happy to be here,” expressed the man who blessed the Winnebago Pow Wow arena. “I pray for all the people here now and for all our brothers and sisters around the world.”
It was an accurate expression of my own sentiments as I attended the 148th annual homecoming celebration of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The Winnebago Veteran's Pow Wow is the oldest continuous memorial pow wow in Native American country today and is open to the public.
This is a great opportunity to experience an authentic cultural event without traveling to the other side of the world.
The evening started with a grand entry. Hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers in traditional regalia and from all over the country entered the arena and started to dance.
The arena is in the shape of a circle.
“As Black Elk said, you notice everything the creator made is in the round – bird nests, the earth, the sun. It’s nature’s design,” explained Nancy Gillis of Walthill.
Gillis teaches at Little Priest College in Winnebago.
“Everything Indians do is in the round. We dance in the round to honor the great creator,” Gillis added.
The dancers compete for prizes.
Pow wows are a very social event. A family has a playful moment on the dance arena at the Winnebago Pow Wow.
Music for the pow wow dance competition and other activities was provided by performers who played large, specially designed drums and sang traditional songs.
The drum groups also competed for prizes. All drum groups have a lead singer who directs the other drummers and singers.
There are several different dance styles. Each style has its own steps, history and tribal affiliation.
The Grass Dance is known around the country and originally came from the northern Central Plains.
There are several stories behind the origins of the Grass Dance. A tribal leader told one version at the start of the dance.
“A medicine man told a boy with a club foot to seek inspiration in the prairie. His vision quest lasted four days and nights. On the fourth day, the creator came to the boy and he observed the swaying of the grass and received a vision of himself dancing the same style as the grass. When he shared this vision with his village, the use of his foot was returned and he performed the first Grass Dance.”
Other origins attribute the Grass Dance to scouts blessing and flattening the grass for a ceremony, dance or battle. The dancers would also then tie braided grass into their belts.
Tying grass to the belt is believed to have led to using yarn and ribbons common today.
The storyteller explained how a champion dancer called Mike Onestar would compete in western clothes and tie yarn to his clothing to symbolize the grass.
His point was that it is what’s in your heart when you dance – not what you wear – that makes a great dancer.
A young dancer checks out the flag staff in the arena at the Winnebago Pow Wow.
The dance arena is full during a dance at the Winnebago Pow Wow.