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February 17, 2002

Gathering of the Heartbeat: Indian Women Challenge Tradition

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Keywords: native american traditions drum protocol indian tradition women drum groups should women drum tribal drum traditions

When Germaine Tremmel and Sharon Mountain organized “Gathering of the Heartbeat” in Minneapolis seven years ago, they created an annual retreat where American Indian women could celebrate tradition and challenge taboos by singing around a ceremonial drum.

Dozens of people from across the country and Canada now participate in the annual gathering, kept alive by an increasing number of women turning to the drum and other sacred objects usually reserved for men.

The bond forged at that first feast in Powderhorn Park was a key this month to how quickly news spread about a Canadian women’s drum group suing the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul because it was not allowed to perform at a campus powwow. Phone calls and e-mail messages transmitted the disappointment from coast to coast.

The Ramsey County lawsuit has forced elders, dancers and others on the powwow circuit to make decisions on which traditions to carry into the 21st century, and which to leave behind.

Many American Indians say the growth of single-parent households and high rates of intermarriage have made it imperative for women to become keepers of drums, songs, eagle-feather fans and other sacred ite.

AUTHOR: Hannah Allam
St. Paul Pioneer Press

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