‘Gathering of Eagles’ Celebrates Traditions
As dancers circled clockwise around the sacred powwow grounds in Hessel, they were reminded of the cyclical nature of life. It was a recurring theme throughout the 19th annual Gathering of the Eagles Powwow, sponsored by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians from Friday, August 19, through Sunday, August 21.
Day cycled into night, the young learned from the old, and the two days of dancing presented markedly different circumstances for each day. Friends and family from Native American tribes throughout Michigan and Canada saw plenty of sun Saturday and plenty of rain Sunday. The downpour did not keep this cultural celebration at the corner of Three Mile and Old St. Ignace roads from seeing strong participation.
“It’s a celebration for all of life, the good and the bad,” he added. “We give thanks for everything. There are songs for everybody and everything. There are those that make the young dancers happy and those that please the elders.”
To that end, there are solemn dances that honor the warriors of past, present, and future, or ask for healing. Then there are lighthearted dances that encourage the participation of everyone, including children and non-Natives.
Young men and women are taking a more active role in all of the powwow activities, said John Causley, Jr., who carried the elders staff during this weekend’s three Grand Entries. This includes serving among the drummers and the singers who provide the beat and the voice for the dances.
Matthew Landreville is an example of a young man who participated in multiple activities at the powwow. He took a break from drumming in the local drum circle, Mukkwa Giizhik, to try his luck in the spot dance.
“It always seems to be one of two options,” he said. “I’m either really close to the spot or it’s all the way on the other side.”
Charlotte Boissoneau, 8, of Garden River, Ontario, was another young participant in the dances. She is a jingle dress dancer who took part in the healing dances held for Jerry Causley. Although the subject of illness is a solemn one, it is important that the dancers have good thoughts in their heads, said her father, Dave Biossoneau.
Healing dances have a special meaning to Charlotte, Mr. Biossoneau said. She dances for her two aunts, both of who are breast cancer survivors.
While the two are accustomed to attending larger powwows, they had high praise for the Hessel powwow and the friendliness of those in attendance.
“It is the same spirit,” Mr. Biossoneau said, “no matter where you go or how big the ceremony is.”
Charles and Margaret Henry also felt that welcoming spirit when they participated in some of the community dances. They offered an outsider’s perspective after attending their first powwow Sunday. The couple from Ada was in town visiting their son, and decided to step into the circle after being encouraged by a nearby vendor.
“I like to dance,” Mrs. Henry explained. “I was told the dance was just a two-step, so I decided to give it a try.”
She has been learning bits and pieces about the Native American culture since she arrived in the United States from Great Britain. Her husband tells their grandchildren stories with Pocahontas as a central character and she has made dream catchers with them.
“This sounded like fun. I wanted to see what powwows were all about,” she said. “It’s been fantastic sharing in this culture. You can tell how very important it is to them to pass their culture on to their younger ones.”
Mrs. Henry said she was surprised at the amount of patriotism and reverence for the U.S. military and flag that takes place at a powwow, right alongside the Native American traditions.
The Grand Entry that comes before any dances may begin blends both heritage and patriotism. This year, Gene Reid was the head veteran, Tracey Heath carried the POW-MIA staff, Perry Causley the community staff, Mr. Causley the elders staff, Jaime Heath the veterans staff, and Graz Shipman carried the wolf warrior staff, which was given to Master of Ceremonies Calvin Burnside last year.
Flag-bearers were Shawn Golla, Robert Causley, Art Causley, Butch VanEllen, and John Barwikowski.
In addition to the dancers and drummers, there was a potluck dinner Friday and a potluck feast Saturday. Artists and vendors provided a variety of Native American arts and crafts, along with food.