The traditional Winter Pow Wow in Milwaukee this weekend, March 8-9, has been a source of entertainment in the Wisconsin community for 23 years.
“This is the biggest pow wow in southeast Wisconsin for the spring season,” said Mark Denning, a board member of the Indian Summer Festival, the non-profit group that organizes the two events. “We saw an opportunity to promote and educate the public about our culture.”
Denning (Nadaway Benasi) said the idea for the intertribal pow wow grew from the success of the Indian Summer Festival that draws at least 45,000 to 50,000 people.
The pow wow attracts more than 3,000 people and is held indoors at the Products Pavilion of the Wisconsin State Fair Park.
“We offer an extensive marketplace of approximately 50 vendors—many of which are Native craftspeople and demonstrators who count on the Winter Pow Wow to sell their crafts,” said Siobhan Marks, marketing director of the organizing group. “The Winter Pow Wow celebrates Native culture among our tribes. It is our chance to give back to our community,” she said.Denning said the pow wow is supported by the 11 federally recognized tribes and bands of Wisconsin, who support the pow wow and recognize that Milwaukee has the largest population of Natives in the state.
The pow wow is by no means Native inclusive. Denning said that the community extends to foreign visitors coming from Canada, England, Germany, France and Australia.
Local and foreign guests will be entertained by the Ballet Folklorico Mexico de los Hermanos Avila, an Aztec dance troupe, and Strawberry Moon Singers, a 12-women hand drum group known for its healing songs.
Leonard Malatare (Confederated Salish & Kootenai of the Flathead Indian Reservation) is the pow wow’s MC; Ronnie Preston (Apache), arena director; and Wazi Jaci (Ho-Chunk), host drum. Two-hundred dancers signed up for the pow wow.
Dancers represent Stockbridge Munsee, Menominee Nation, Mole Lake Sokaogan Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Oneida Nation, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, St, Croix Chippewa Indians, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe and Brothertown Indian Nation.
Denning said he expects a number of dances to be performed, including those for men: northern style, southern straight, grass, chicken, fancy, northern woodland old style and smoke and for women: southern cloth, southern buckskin, northern buckskin, jingle dress, fancy and smoke.
“Here, in this pow wow, they can be proud of being a Native,” said Denning, remembering conversations with guests who are entertained and feel a sense of community when they come.
This to Denning is what the pow wow and sense of community means. “It helps heal us too.”