Traditional pow wow held in Grand Rapids

GVL / Dylan McIntyre
Pow wow at Riverside Park on Saturday, September 9th, 2017.

GVL / Dylan McIntyre Pow wow at Riverside Park on Saturday, September 9th, 2017.

Joshua Vissers

The 2017 Grand Valley American Indian Lodge Pow Wow was held Saturday, Sept. 9, and Sunday, Sept. 10, at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids.

“It’s a celebration,” said Paul Raphael, an attendee at the event from Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. “Sometimes people think it’s a ceremony, but it’s not really a ceremony. It’s just coming together as friends and relatives.” 

Raphael drove about three hours from the Grand Traverse Bay area to dance and visit with friends and family. For him, it’s also about carrying on the traditions in his family.

“Grand Entry represents our time coming into the earth,” Raphael said, explaining the dances that happen periodically in the circle in the center of the tents and vending booths. During some of the dances, the crowd was asked to stand, remove their hats, and refrain from taking pictures or recording the drummers or dancers in the circle.

“That circle’s been smudged, some people say blessed,” said Earnest Loonsfoot, the arena director, who is from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. It is his duty to maintain peace and order within the circle and keep the eastern doorway, the only entrance for the dancers, clear of obstacles, such as curious onlookers.

Cody Routley, 14, came from Fremont, Michigan, with his grandmother to sell hand-carved walking sticks and arrowheads.

“I start with just a rock,” he said, demonstrating the technique with tools equipped with deer-antler handles. He said the whole process takes about an hour-and-a-half.

When asked about the prospect of changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, attendees gave similar responses.

“Columbus was a wicked man, but then you look at this country, this country has been a wicked country,” Raphael said. He sees a lot of mixed messages coming from local communities’ efforts surrounding Columbus Day.

“Maybe things will change,” he said.