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W.E. celebrates new powwow grounds

WHITE EARTH - Thanks to fast construction and help from the United States Department of Agriculture, the White Earth Nation has newly renovated powwow grounds and a large community center ready to go just days before the 140th anniversary celebration at their powwow this weekend.

Nearly 175 community members gathered on Thursday morning to bless the new grounds.

The powwow grounds are still in the traditional location, but are much larger and more secure.

The diameter of the circle, now 200 feet, allows for 1,500 seats. Before, there was only room for five or six hundred, said Kenneth "Gus" Bevins, White Earth's district III representative.

The bleachers and overheads, which used to be wood, now feature aluminum seating and steel overhead frames.

A separate announcer booth was built, as well as an area for elders to sit with more accessibility for wheelchairs.

There are 32 flagpoles around the perimeter, and a "rim road" features water and electricity hook-ups for vendors that come to the powwow.

The powwow grounds will also have better drainage now, as the grounds are sloped so water seeps away from the center.

The community center, a 17,000-square-foot building, features a full-size basketball gym with lines and capability for volleyball and bleacher seating for 650 people.

Men's and women's locker rooms are new, as is the professional kitchen and dining room.

Two new meeting rooms overlook the powwow grounds on the adjacent property.

The total price tag for the community center was $2.8 million, partially from grant money, and partially from loans through the USDA, said Andrew Gag, a representative from the USDA.

The powwow grounds restoration was an additional $800,000.

Wayne Dietrich, with EAPC Architects Engineers, who designed the community center and powwow grounds, said the firm had been working on designing the project since 2004.

They broke ground last August, and worked through the fall and winter to be completed before the 140th anniversary in 2008.

Thursday's Grand Opening Ceremony featured appearances by the Honor Guard, a pipe ceremony and blessing, with drumming by the Lil' Redtail Drum Group.

After blessing the powwow grounds, the crowd moved inside to the new community center gym.

Tribal Council Chairwoman Erma J. Vizenor said it was "a good day."

"People without a vision shall perish," she said. "We have been blessed with a vision."

Vizenor added that the new grounds would bring "sacredness, healing, and unity" to the White Earth community.

She joked about the recent wet weather making for soggy grass, but said she would "dance so hard the water will splash."

Dan Labat, also of the USDA Rural Development team, said the group was happy to be involved in a project "where people are so willing and eager to help."

He presented the Tribal Council with a Certificate of Appreciation.

Brenda K. Elmer, a representative from Minnesota senator Norm Coleman's office, read a letter from Coleman, in which he congratulated the White Earth community on their new gathering spaces which would "foster fellowship ... and be enjoyed for many years."

After the speeches and presentations, community members enjoyed a feast.

Bevins said the new spaces are important to community growth, to bring in more people, and invite family members home.

"We've grown so far," he said. "This should hold us for many years."