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Chatting with Pow Wow MC Chris Eagle Hawk

One of two Master of Ceremonies selected for the 2011 Denver March Powwow is Chris Eagle Hawk (the other, Lawrence Baker, we covered here), Lakota, from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. For 35 years Eagle Hawk has been an announcer at pow wows, conferences, meetings and native gatherings.

He was given this duty of being an E’yapaha to the Oglala people by the elders of the Oglala Oyate after the passing of Cornelius Kills Small. His instruction came from Chief Oliver Red Cloud, among other elders. One fundamental rule for any pow wow MC: always respect the Creator, women, elders and children.

The essential qualities of an MC

“First of all is sobriety, and to be in touch with all the values and virtues of the people. Have kindness in your heart, respect for the things that are sacred in our society, be kind to women, elders and children," Eagle Hawk said.

Another quality is to be able to be bilingual and speak your own language, he said. “It’s very important. When you speak in a different language, you become that person. I speak Lakota and I speak as a different person.”

Eagle Hawk added that when Cornelius Kills Small passed on, “they called me and told me, ‘don’t try to fill his shoes; it’s yours now; fill your own shoes.” Emcees develop their own style, and Eagle Hawk described part of that as “developing a word system that is comfortable not only for yourself, but for the people.”

Humor is also important for any emcee. When Eagle Hawk uses humor, it’s often directed right at himself. “You have to laugh at yourself,” he said. He also likes to incorporate jokes and stories from the people who attend his pow wows.

“I don’t’ go on the Internet to get my jokes. A lot of the humor that I use is the people’s humor. They’ll walk up to me and tell me certain little stories and jokes, and then later I tell them. People like that: ‘hey, you told that joke I told you!’”

“I look at the things we have in common”

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Asked how he goes about bringing the huge arena together, Eagle Hawk said this: “One of the things I really look at when I do these things, I don’t look at people’s differences, whether it’s tribal or region, I look at the things we have in common.”

Tribal people have so many things in common, Eagle Hawk said, but like people from all walks of life, sometimes they don't focus on all the similarities and shared interests.

“The drum, for instance: we can gather a lot of different tribes and nations together, but the one thing we have is the drum. Songs that we share, we are sharing culture. Eagle Hawk added that one component of the modern pow wow that shapes the way people interact is the intense competition. “Lately, it’s been so competitive that you forget. People need to start sharing those things again. Kinship, we need to get back to that.”

Eagle Hawk is a dancer himself, in the Northern Traditional style, and he sings with the Crazy Horse Singers. Going back generations, his family has been singers and dancers.

Enjoyment in watching the children learn

Eagle Hawk is self-employed as a Cultural Consultant, providing Lakota knowledge, drum therapy and self-awareness for the youth and adults throughout Indian Country.

He is a member of two warrior societies and the Teca Wacipi Okolakiciye (Young Dancer’s Society).

What he enjoys about announcing is not only seeing the elders, but the children. When children watch and participate in a pow wow, “there are a lot of lessons going on.” Eagle Hawk said. The children are being taught about boundaries and limits, not only physically so they don’t bump into each other, but in other ways, too.

“Children learn by sitting and watching and doing. They’re adopting role models, and developing their own style, so they have their own identification. Also in the drum, there’s a lot of lessons in that – working together, cooperation, nonverbal communication, all playing one instrument to create something that’s beautiful."

“The drum is the heartbeat of the people,” Eagle Hawk said, and sitting around the drum is “singing in balance and harmony.”