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Longtime emcee carries message of respect into the arena

ANADARKO, Okla. - When Indian Country Today first called Vince Beyl, 55, one of the emcees scheduled for the 2007 National Powwow - drums could be heard in the background. Beyl was finishing emcee duties at Pine Point, Minn., a community within his own Ojibway tribe's White Earth Reservation. Later in the evening, ICT caught up with Beyl and asked how he first started announcing at pow wows.

''Someone didn't show up at a particular situation, and they asked if I would do it,'' Beyl said. ''It more or less started from there.''

Filling in as an announcer on that one occasion started Beyl on a 20-year career as a pow wow emcee, adding to his lifelong involvement in the pow wow arena. He works as an emcee up to 16 times per year. Some of the pow wows he has worked include Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, N.M., the Sky Dome Powwow in Toronto and Schemitzun in Connecticut. But before getting behind the mike, Beyl had also been a Traditional dancer and one of the original members of Red Earth Singers out of Tama, Iowa.

''Being an announcer, to me, is a big thing,'' Beyl said. ''I have a lot of respect for those dancers and singers. For me, it's a unique way of me giving something special back into that circle, something that I have a lot of respect for and I value. For me, that's what the special thing about announcing is.''

One thing that Beyl said he tries to do as an emcee is to give the message that the pow wow is about song and dance and good feelings, but that all tribes share a respect for those ancestors who kept the dances alive to pass them on to the current generations.

''Regardless of where I'm at, being Ojibway, I could be up in northern Saskatchewan with the Cree Nation - it's about learning about other people's tribal traditions,'' Beyl said about being emcee for different tribal celebrations. ''The message I try to get out is about keeping the respect and the traditions, as best we can, intact within that circle. It's about carrying on that legacy, a gift to us of song and dance about our ancestors and forefathers. That's a strong message that I always convey wherever I travel and wherever I announce.''

In addition to carrying this message of respect, Beyl finds the time to squeeze in jokes whenever he can, with most of his humor being admittedly ''off the cuff.''

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''I keep it clean, take it to the edge,'' he said. ''Nothing inappropriate, just keep it going.''

One aspect of the pow wow arena that Beyl said he finds important is the role that military service veterans have. Being a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, Beyl said that veterans are a link to the warriors who originated many of the pow wow traditions of today.

''They play a vital role because most people know that a lot of the original songs were all about the ogichidah - how we say in our language are 'the warriors,''' Beyl said about veterans. ''They had the only right to dance, when you go back a long time. These pow wows, which make it unique with the veterans that are present, they are carrying the eagle staffs - the color guards. These veterans have shown us a pathway. They come back from a war and the battlegrounds. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here. They are just like our ancestors that fought to protect and preserve our language and our culture. The fact that we can still sing these songs and dance - that's what it's all about.''

When not on the pow wow circuit, Beyl works as the director of Indian education for Bemidji Public Schools, located between the Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth reservations in northern Minnesota. There, his program sponsors an annual pow wow and offers students opportunities to learn Native language and culture in grades kindergarten through high school.

Beyl said that throughout his time going to pow wows, he said he has met many fine people. He said that one of his early mentors who guided him early in his emcee career was the late Bob Majors of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

For future pow wow emcees who might find themselves as Beyl did - filling in for someone else - Beyl gave the following advice:

''Have an opportunity to learn about the diversity of tribes. Don't impose your own ways on people. Be open-minded, be positive and upbeat, and have a good time.''