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January 2, 2006

Potawatomi Annual Reunion Festival held second Saturday of every October

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Fall Intertribal Powwow (Dgwaget Nimediwen)

When: 2nd Saturday of every October

Where: Raymond Peltier Park, 1702 S Gordon Cooper Drive, Shawnee, OK 74801

The Annual Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Pow-wows were first started in 1972 to reinvigorate some sense of cultural identity among the Citizen Potawatomi people, and to encourage those who wanted to pow-wow dance to step out into the dance circle with pride.

For 26 years, the CPN hosted one of the best intertribal competition pow-wows in the country. They were held over three and sometimes four days on the last full weekend of each June, which meant dancing for days on some of the hottest, most humid days of the year. It was an incredible spectacle, with several drums and hundreds of dancers. They came from all over the U.S. and Canada to compete for top prize money.

Over the years, however, despite the original intention to have the pow-wows for the Potawatomi people, they had grown into something that existed for almost everyone except them. And it was not hard to understand why: Not unlike competitors on the rodeo circuit, many Native American Indian dancers make a living by competing, and their families depend on them to end up in the money. They travel thousands of miles each year, planning out their route to include the highest-paying purses. The CPN Pow-wow prize money was often $50,000 or more, so the professional dancers put the CPN Pow-wow high on their agenda for competition, or, as it is said in Indian Country, the CPN Pow-wow was on the pow-wow highway.

The Citizen Potawatomi were proud of their pow-wow, but even after decades, few Potawatomi dancers could be found among the competitors. In fact, in the last year of the intertribal pow-wow, only one Potawatomi dancer dared to compete against the highly-trained professionals in the dance circle. As in any competitive sport, there was a considerable intimidation factor that discouraged new people. It was easy to see that the CPN pow-wow had become big business and only professional competitors need apply.

In the grandstands, the Citizen Potawatomi tribal members grew more and more disillusioned. Even though the pow-wow was exciting and colorful, they felt that something important was missing; something that would never be found in the hustle and bustle of a competition pow-wow: It was a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being welcome in their own home.

With the pow-wow budgets soaring and attendance by the Potawatomi tribal members shrinking, the Nation’s administrators saw that a change had to be made.

In 1999, they made a courageous and controversial move: the CPN announced that it would change the event format from a competition pow-wow to a Reunion Festival devoted to the Citizen Potawatomi tribal members. Prize money would be a fraction of what it had been for any one event, but there were many more events, and those were mostly family-oriented. At the specific request of tribal elders, a Country-Western Dance was scheduled for Friday nights. Importantly, only Citizen Potawatomi tribal members were invited to attend.

Many Potawatomi skeptically came to see what the new Festival would be like. In fact, some hardcore pow-wow enthusiasts openly hoped it would fail. At first, only a few Potawatomi traditional dancers showed up, and it was a pretty sparse Grand Entry. Then, the pow-wow M.C., Tim Tallchief, asked everyone in the grandstands to get up and dance an intertribal, a non-competitive type of dance open to everyone.

The people looked at each other, knowing that by tradition, the women must wear shawls to enter the dance circle. But preparations had already been made: boxes of shawls for the women and sashes for the men stood at the ready. The M.C. asked everyone to help themselves, and to everyone’s joy — they did! Filing past the boxes brimming with shawls and sashes, they dressed out, many for the first time in their lives. On that evening back in 1999, more Citizen Potawatomi dancers entered the dance circle and stepped to the drum than had ever been seen before.

Each year that the Reunion Festival has been held, more and more Citizen Potawatomi have made the personal commitment of time and effort to become traditional dancers. Now, on Saturday nights, (the Festival time reserved for traditional dancing), the dance circle is packed with Citizen Potawatomi in full regalia. The Annual Reunion Festival clearly is a runaway success. Importantly, the new format has accomplished what tribal administrators first intended all those years ago: to reawaken a feeling of tradition and a sense of belonging within the Citizen Potawatomi people.

In hindsight, it is generally agreed that the change was for the best. But no change comes without cost, and unfortunately, many of our non-Potawatomi neighbors felt left out, even discriminated against.

Then, in 2003, after the Annual Reunion Festival was firmly established, the Nation’s administrators felt that it was time once again to invite our many non-Potawatomi friends to join us in the dance circle. The intertribal competition pow-wow would return to Potawatomi country, but with significant changes to avoid the problems of the past: the pow-wows would last only one day, from noon to midnight and a new date was assigned — the second Saturday of every October, when it’s cooler and more comfortable to dance; the amount of prize money was kept down — just high enough to bring some good dancers out, but still leave room for those Potawatomi who were still learning how to pow-wow dance. And every effort was to be made to encourage Potawatomi dancers and drums to attend.

When the revamped CPN Intertribal Pow-wow made its debut on October 11, 2003, everybody was pleased. There were plenty of vendors and dancers. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. When it began raining during the afternoon meal break, no one complained, they just moved their chairs into the big Round House and continued on dancing.

For more information, contact:

Zack Morris

Departmental Assistant

zmorris@potawatomi.org

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