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Sun shines on a day of honor at the KBIC Pow wow


BARAGA, Mich. – An otherwise rainy Friday turned into a brilliant evening as the clouds parted for the Grand Entry ceremony with hundreds of traditional dancers who seemed to glide and a dozen drums reverberating in the heavy summer air during the 30th Annual Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Maawanji’iding.

“Check the sun – the clouds are gone,” said emcee Ted Holappa. “We’re going to call upon Buffalo Horse drum.”

From a tribal teen’s dreams being fulfilled to the poignant remembrance of a key dancer who died five months before the event, organizers and spectators agreed it was a pow wow that won’t be forgotten.

The sun sparkled off thousands of sequins as more than 400 dancers twirled and dipped and several drums shook the hardwoods and pine at the Ojibwa Powwow Campgrounds for the three-day event held July 25 – 27, 2008 that attracted about 5,000 spectators. Maawanji’iding means “gathering” in Ojibwa.

The crowd roared for each drum corps including host Buffalo Horse, Minnesota Ojibwa, co-host Four Thunders, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa, and home drum Woodland Singers.

“Everyone please rise and remove your hats and respect our Eagle Staff – they’re going to be bringing in our Grand Entry. … Buffalo Horse,” thundered Holappa.

The theme was “Honor Our Public Service Providers.”

The pow wow honored the late Lester Drift, a cultural dancer who had been asked to serve as head male dancer for the pow wow but died of an apparent heart attack at age 42.

“We honored those people such as tribal police, conservation, health care workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters,” said Tracy Emery, KBIC pow wow committee chair. “In the past number of years we’ve had a big increase in our tribal members serving in these positions.”

Young and old were honored during the event, including dancing by family and friends of the head male dancer who died unexpectedly two months after accepting an invitation to be an integral part of the pow wow.

“In order of our protocol of grand entry we have our adults, our young people, our teens and then, of course, hauling up the rear our little munchkin squad – all the little people,” Holappa said.

The crowd honored a procession of female tribal elders including 93-year-old Morning Star, who was carrying a fan made of eagle feathers and walked with a cane.

“Ladies and gentlemen I’d like to acknowledge our traditional dancer. … Morning Star; It’s a very special privilege,” Holappa said. “How about a great big woo haa for our 93-year-old traditional female dancer!”

The excited crowd yelled and honored the grand entry participants with loud and long applause.

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“All our dancers and singers appreciate that,” Holappa said.


Photo by Greg Peterson Morning Star, with cane, a 93-year-old traditional female dancer was honored during the Grand Entry of the 30th annual Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Maawanji’iding.

Six elders were brought to the front of the arena and thanked for their decades of service to the tribe. For nearly 450 years of combined community and culture related service, pow wow organizers honored Elizabeth Galer, James “Jay” Loonsfoot, Charles “Chuck” Loonsfoot Sr., Violet Friisvall, Warren “Jerry” Swartz Sr. and Loretta Hugo.

“We also want to crown our princess,” Holappa said.

Fifteen-year-old Tashina Emery Kauppila was chosen from a field of five to be crowned Miss Keweenaw Bay. She is the daughter of Jeanne and Dave Kauppila of Baraga. Told a few years ago by her mother that she was too young to enter the competition, the energetic teen has been busy, dancing at events at northern Michigan’s two largest universities. With help from an elder, Kauppila created her regalia by hand and is learning everything she can about KBIC culture because of a strong belief that the tribe’s heritage should be passed to all future generations.

A drum played a special song to honor the tribal youth – many of whom were in the grand entry procession – and thank the non–Native Marquette teens attending the pow wow for building butterfly houses and planting 26,000 native seeds during the first of three summers in an effort to protect pollinators called the Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Project.

The pow wow honored the late Lester Drift, a cultural dancer who had been asked to serve as head male dancer for the pow wow but died “suddenly and unexpectedly” of an apparent heart attack at age 42 “and walked on to the spirit world,” said Lauri Denomie, editor of the KBIC newsletter. Though not a member of the tribe, Drift married a KBIC member and had been “asked properly with tobacco to serve.”

Because Drift had accepted, dancers from the family and the community danced for him in honor of his family. His widow received the honorarium.

Drift was “asked to be our head dancer in December 2007 and had accepted, unfortunately Lester passed away at a very early age in February [2008],” Emery said. “We chose not to replace him and instead honored him by asking different family members to dance in his honor in all different Grand Entries.”

The Lester Drift Memorial Representatives were Rodney Loonsfoot, Alden Connor Sr., Donald Chosa Jr. and Donald Chosa III. LeRoy Gauthier filled in one evening for Leon Chosa.

Those honored during the pow wow included: Jim St. Arnold, KBIC Ojibwa, as head veteran dancer; Drift as memorial head male dancer; Rebecca Genschow, KBIC Ojibwa, as head female dancer; Leon Chosa, KBIC Ojibwa, as head male youth dancer and Vanessa Beaver, KBIC Ojibwa, as head female youth dancer.

“Ladies and gentlemen I’d like to acknowledge our traditional dancer. … Morning Star; It’s a very special privilege. How about a great big woo haa for our 93-year-old traditional female dancer!”

– Ted Holappa, emcee of the 30th Annual Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Maawanji’iding

Tribal President Warren “Chris” Swartz Jr. welcomed the crowd following Friday evening’s Grand Entry during which he served in the honor guard.

“Our pow wow went really well this past year,” Emery said. “The weather was very nice; it stayed in the low 80s.”

Like many summer events, the economy had an impact on spectators. “Our records were down a bit due to high gas prices, but we still had a high attendance. All in all it was a really wonderful weekend.”