Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

It’s the Red Cliff Nation’s 36th Annual Traditional Pow Wow

Saturday July 5, 2014
Apostle Islands Area Campground
Bayfield, Wisconsin


We can hear the drums as we get out of the car in the Pow Wow parking section of the Legendary Waters Casino parking lot on the reservation of the Red Cliff Objibwe (Chippewa) Nation just north of Bayfield.

The drums are deep.   They make the air vibrate.  You can feel them in your bones.




We aren’t the only ones who want to be here in plenty of time for the Grand Entry at 1:00



We come to the entrance booth and get out our $10 for two entry tickets good for the entire week-end.  The Pow Wow started last night and runs through tomorrow.   The young lady at the booth informs us that Elders are free.  I had forgotten with what reverence the Native peoples treat their elders and all elders.  So unlike our youth oriented culture.  Here Elders are honored and respected.   I haven’t really thought of myself as an Elder but in this community I am.   I smile and thank her and tell her we would like to pay anyway to contribute to the Pow Wow.  She smiles in return and hands us two buttons.




We have just under an hour until the Grand Entry so we take a turn around the Pow Wow Grounds.   The grounds are always in a circle with vendors and the Master of Ceremonies booth on the outside edge.  The inner circle is made up of short bleachers and tents with chairs brought by family groups or put up by the Tribe for the Elders.   This year, we don’t have to bring our own chairs and umbrellas.  The chairs and shade are provided for us.   This Elder stuff is a fine thing in this community.

In the center of the circle are the drums.   These are big drums played by a group of drummers.  Giant coffee table sized drums.   There are 5 drums at this Pow Wow which is on the smaller side.

The dancers dance on the inside of the circle of spectators and around the drums in the middle.

The Pow Wow is a link to the past that helps maintain Native Heritage. Seen by outsiders as entertainment due to the singing, dancing, and colorful regalia, the Pow Wow is a spiritual legacy which should be treated with respect and honor.  It is a time for everyone to be together with family and friends; a time to share, laugh, tell jokes and reminisce about the past.  It is a time to honor the past and celebrate the future.  It’s a time to be thankful.

The dance arena is also called an “Arbor” and is blessed before the Pow Wow gathering begins. It is considered to be sacred ground for the duration of the celebration.  Out of respect for this, I never walk in the arena, never cut across it.  I always walk around even when they take the late after noon break for the feast on Saturdays and no one is inside the Arbor.  I don’t cut across.

Often the front seats of the Arbor are reserved for dancers, singers, and their families.  Elders are given preferred places to sit and observe as well.  Others sit in the bleachers.







We take a turn around the grounds looking at the vendor and food booths.  I can see David’s eyes light up at fry bread, fry brats ( you know you are in Wisconsin) and Indian Tacos.   We have purposefully not brought our lunch.  

There is a lovely set of beaded and feathered earrings at one tent that are just like some I once cherished but were lost.   I am SO tempted.  But I don’t really wear earrings any more so I reluctantly put them back.


 The drummers for each drum are  6 or 7 adult men and teens.  There are boys learning who take a turn now and then.  But one drum circle here is all young men, I’d say 17 and under.   They are actually very good and 2 or 3 of their members compete in the hand drum competition and singing at the end of this day’s events.  The drums play an important part in the gathering.  They are recognized as their own living entity.  They represent the heart beat of Mother Earth. They are a powerful undercurrent to everything that happens.

Most drums are under sun shades, a few are not.  There is a Host Drum chosen from another tribe.  There can also be a co-host drum.  Today’s drums are Host from Lac Courte Oreilles a band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and Co-host from Black River Falls a Hocak or Winnebago Tribe.







We make our way over to tent on the far side of the Pow Wow grounds and take seats for the Grand Entry. 

The Master of Ceremonies keeps the Pow Wow running smoothly.  He is the one who announces the schedule of events, calls the drums to sing and explains the ceremonies as they take place.  We aren’t seated long when he announces the Grand Entry and the Flag and Staff carriers; everyone stands and remains standing for the full circle of the Arbor.


The flags are the U.S. Flag, The Red Cliff Nation Flag and the P.O.W flag.  The Eagle Staffs presenting Eagle staffs are from Red Cliff and 3 nearby tribes.

The Eagle Staffs lead the procession around the circle followed by the Flags and the Head Male and Female dancers. As they come by, the other dancers fall in behind them.  This is the first dance to start the celebration.   The regalia being worn is stunning.  So colorful.  The jingle dancer’s dresses and the traditional men’s bells accent the powerful drums. 







I am not the only one taking pictures of the Grand Entry and the dancing.


Throughout the day the MC calls for various types of dances.  Intertribal are for all forms of dancing.  Everyone dances and there are some dances in which he includes anyone in the audience who would like to join.   He also calls for specific types of dances such as Women’s Traditional.  These are the women with shawls over one arm and a feather in the other.  Their dance is slow and stately to the heartbeat drum.   

Other women dancers are the Jingle Dancers and the Shawl Dancers.    Men dancers are Grass Dancers. Traditional dancers and Fancy Dancers.   Each has a different regalia and different steps.  They are solemn and joyful in turn.   All are wonderful to watch.


Intertribal with all styles







All women dancers in all styles.




Women’s Traditional:



Jingle dancers – notice they roll up on their toes and keep their hands on their hips    Seems I have my favorites.







Shawl Dancers – these are the women Fancy Dancers and they truly are.    I have my favorite here too.







Male Fancy Dancer.



Men’s Traditional:





Men’s Grass Dancers




Soon after we arrive, David gets a fry brat and shares it with me.   Later in mid afternoon I bring back an Indian Taco and a piece of fry bread sprinkled with cinnamon sugar to share with him.




The theme of the Pow Wow is Honoring our Past, Preserving Our Future.  I am very impressed with the number of young dancers here today.  Even very young dancers.  It is clear that the Red Cliff Tribe takes very seriously their charge to pass on their traditions to preserve their future.  These children are growing up with these sounds and sights as their heritage. 








As the afternoon wears on there are several honoring dances done specifically to honor members of the tribe who have died during the year and ones who have done something others wish to honor.   One honor dance is done to honor those teaching in the Native Speakers program at the tribal school.   As the older native speakers are dying, the Red Cliff Objibwe are working very determinedly to keep their language alive by teaching it in their school.

There are also dance contests for youth during the afternoon.  For girls and for boys.  First prize is $100 and a jacket.  I come to understand that it is the jacket that is coveted.  2nd price is $75 and 3rd is $50.  Girl’s jackets are red, boys are grey.  The emblem on the back is the same.  By winning this contest, they become tribal royalty for the year.    In the evening, a hand drum contest was held for youth.






Another dance contest is part of a “give away”.  In many Native traditions at Pow Wow and Feast Days it is customary to give gifts to those in attendance.  In these cultures, the richest are the ones who give away the most.    Boy what a difference from our culture of accumulation.

One of the giveaways today is to youth who do not have regalia.  The families of last year’s Royalty made regalia for those children who did not have any.   There is a dance contest held to determine the recipients.  The families chose the receiver who of course has to fit the regalia made.  I saw one woman with a grass dancer’s regalia for a young man about 7 or 8 and a woman with a jingle dress for a girl of 11 or 12.  But I did not see the winners.  They must have been on the other side of the drums from me.   At the end of the dancing, the dancers are told to stand in place and the regalia is brought to the winners by the one who made it.


At “about” 4:30ish, a break is called for the Pow Wow Feast which is put by the tribe and to which everyone is invited.   Here is another place where they honor their elders.  The line forms at the Casino Convention Center but as any elder comes forward, he or she is given the first place in the line automatically.   When we get to the center the line is not too long and we take our place but those around us tell  us that we must go to the front as elders.  Even though we are  not part of their community, this is what their culture believes.   It is important to them, and so we do as they do.

The food was obviously hand made by the members of the tribe and it was PLENTIFUL.  Good thing because there were hundreds of people.   No pictures as it was indoors and would have required a flash which I was not willing to do. 


When we return at “about” 7:00, there is another grand entry to begin this evening session.  There are more dances including the popular two step led by the head man and woman.  It is up to the head man to lead the group around and through various steps including a snake spiral turn in and out.  It is quite a skill to handle what turned out to be a circle of dancer the circumference of the Arbor.






The closing event is the Youth Hand drum contest which according to the schedule was to have been held last night.  I’m not sure why it was rescheduled  but I’m very glad we got to hear these amazing young men.  

There were some very young entrants is this difficult drumming and singing style.  And some very solemn and reverent observers including us.




It was after 10:00 by the time they finished. I was hoping they would announce the winner before we left but they did not. They went on to the Adult hand drum contest and I assume they announced both winners at the close of the Pow Wow for the night.

The temperatures had dropped and even though we had warmer clothing on we were both tired, getting chilly and knew it would be near midnight before they concluded.   So in true Elder fashion, we went home to bed.


It should be obvious by now that I have a great admiration and respect for our Native Peoples who have come through a National Policy of Genocide which my government, I am shamed to say, has never formally acknowledged or apologized for.

These people have maintained their culture in spite of amazing odds.  I honor their values and feel that we whose ancestors came here and “discovered” the land they had lived on for thousands of years would have done much better to have adopted their ethics especially as regards respect for the land than to have gone to such extremes to force our way of life upon them.


Here are the faces of the people I saw today.

















And these are the feet that were dancing.  There are all kinds. And they are nearly all colorful, a celebration of life from head to toe.  For the most part, the amount of time and care that goes into making this Pow Wow regalia is incredible.  Many of them have hand sewn beads and are hand embroidered.   Perhaps this is what they do during the long winters.













I don’t think there was one soul here today who didn’t have a wonderful and meaningful time. 
How glad I am that they open their celebration to the public.  
If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Pow Wow be sure to take it and remember it is a sacred space and a sacred time for them.







  1. Sherry, what an excellent post. A pow wow is now one of the things to attend. Thank you for the descriptions and great pictures of the beautiful costumes worn by the members.

  2. So glad you were able to attend and the weather was in your favor!! Your descriptions and explanations were excellent. My favorite photos are your face photos...ALL of them;o))) Know this was a highlight of your travels!!!

  3. Lovely post to honor an impressive and talented people. I am so glad there are children so involved to keep up the tradition! Must have been great to be treated like royalty. I guess the white hairs of wisdom gave you away ;) So many colors and it seems like boundless energy. I loved the candid shots of the faces. Nice to see Dad made it twice! I do think maybe he has some native in him with that olive skin. Great The End picture :)

  4. I love all the wonderful portraits, faces and feet - colors! Sounds like a lovely time too! What is in an Indian Taco?

  5. It is with great northern humor that I announce that the last snow bank in Superior (Wi) has melted......true by the way!

    1. Now that's amazing! And I've been whining about mosquitoes and here there is still snow in Wisconsin. No wonder you guys love this place.

  6. What an honor to attend a Pow Wow. Never have had the pleasure, yet. Beautiful post!

  7. Very colorful. Looks like a lot of fun as well as being very interesting.

  8. Love pow wows and have been to several before I ever started blogging. Wish I had taken photos back then but I can remember through yours. Loved them!

  9. That was a mighty big camera for such a littler girl. I love all the colorful costumes. Looks like a fun day.

  10. Beautiful pictures of a wonderful day. After making a jingle dress and male traditional regalia, I can not look at pictures of a pow wow without seeing all the incredible work and love that it takes to put regalia together. Love Indian tacos. The faces you captured were awesome!!

  11. What a wonderful way to spend a holiday weekend. I would prefer that to fireworks.

  12. I was surprised that you could take pictures of the dancing. I haven't been to a pow wow in years, but I remember them asking folks to refrain from taking pictures during the dance, but to ask an individual dancer afterwards if you could take his or her picture. Those were the days of film cameras so there would never be as many as you took. I love the jingle dance and regalia. A friend gave me some jingles but in all my moves I seem to have lost them. They are made from the lids of snuff cans! My second favorite would have been the grass dancers. Very nice post and pictures - I started reading last night and had to finish this morning!

  13. What a great event! I am glad to see affairs like this for the youth so they can continue the traditions of their people. The colors are beautiful. I love Indian Fry Bread. Your Indian Taco has my mouth watering:)

  14. I liked that fellow with the grey top hat. I have to get one (the het, that is). :c)

  15. Thanks for including my face in the company of such fine people! As a mostly invader-American, I don't feel I have enough native blood to justify claiming any kinship with the original peoples of north America, I too share their spiritual connection to and respect for nature. I admire them. I was struck by what a happy gathering this was, like a big family/community getting together with life long friends. I was also struck by the absence of any war dance or even appearance of any war-like weapons or war paint in the dances. Then too their was the obvious support of tribal families who were successfully engaging their children in these cherished customs. The young of all ages were seen with and without regalia dancing and participating in drumming and singing. I was astonished at the quality of the youth hand drum competition which was actually more of a singing & drumming competition. The drumming and singing blew me away and let me hear what a lead singer in a drum circle actually sounds like without the big drum and the other singers. These kids were amazing - way better than I expected. Great day, unbelievably sad history.

  16. What a beautiful and meaningful day! I attended a pow-wow at Taos pueblo many years ago, and I've always wanted to return to share the experience with Eric. You did a great job of capturing the essence and spirit of the pow-wow with your words and photos. I especially love the photos of all of the different faces.

  17. Wonderful post, Sherry. It was great to be able to share all of this with you and the other participants. It was almost like being there. My grandmother is from Minnesota (Mankato), but I don't believe there is any Native American blood in our family - more's the pity!

    Virtual hugs,


  18. A very special gathering indeed and you were respected as you gave respect. There's a very unique energy at Pow wow.

  19. I try to go every year and am always so moved by the love of family, tribe and mother earth. As you said, the rest of us have a lot to learn. I'm please they have lifted the restrictions on photography at most Pow Wows now, allowing the sharing of such a beautiful celebration. You not only captured the essence of the event but your deep respect and understanding of the traditions made the pictures so very special. I always cringe at the term "costumes" and hope others note the proper "regalia" used here. I love the women's traditional and the men's grass dancers - but I go for the drumming :-).

  20. Great time. We have been to a number of these events around the country. While living in Oklahoma, I went to several every year.

  21. Like your "faces" and "feet"! This post reminded me of when we observed a tribe dancing at Badger State Games back when Katrina used to figure skate. I'll have to go back and find the DVD, I think I taped it. Might make a good "flashback" post.

  22. Sherry, this is my third attempt to comment, not sure what is going on with Google. You can delete any duplicates of triplicate comments.


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