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Dancing and feasting, courtesy of DEBWE youth group

Dancers swirled around the ballroom in the Historic Holmes Theatre on Saturday at the first powwow amd feast put on by the DEBWE youth group of Detroit lakes. The group is aiming to replace the Anishinaabe Center by holding community gatherings and teaching people about native culture. Photo by - Nathan Bowe1 / 4
Sophie Rojas, 8 (in yellow) and Daiel Riche, 9 (in orange) of White Earth were among the dancers. Photo by - Nathan Bowe2 / 4
Looking at a homemade rocking horse were Lexis Star Rogers, 5 (in blue) and Lexie Skye-Rogers, 5, (in yellow) of White Earth. Photo by - Nathan Bowe3 / 4
A booth set up by a group dedicated to helping stray cats. Photo by - Nathan Bowe4 / 4

It might seem odd to describe a powwow as being cozy, but there was just a good, warm feeling coming from the Holmes Ballroom in the Detroit Lakes Community Center on Saturday.

Maybe it's because people weren't there for the money, they were there for the fellowship -- just like the old days before dancers and drum groups expected payouts for performing at powwows.

"Don't talk to me about money," said Bill Paulson of Naytahwaush, one of the organizers. "I don't ever want this to be about money."

Dancers showed up anyway, and so did three or four drum groups -- a circle of singers sitting around a single large drum.

"I really thank the local drums for coming," he added. "They just came to support us -- without them, there wouldn't be a powwow."

The drum groups were given an honorarium to pay for their travel expenses -- but they didn't know that until they showed up, Paulson said.

The three main organizers were Roxanne and Rob Fairbanks and Paulson -- the three are the driving force behind the DEBWE youth organization in Detroit Lakes, which formed in the spring of 2010. (Margaret Rousu, general manager of Niijii radio, is also active with the group).

DEBWE put on a maple syruping presentation in wooded land off Highway 59 in Detroit Lakes earlier this year.

"We're trying to take up the void that the Anishinaabe Center left behind," Paulson said.

It was their first powwow, and they were glad to see the White Earth Honor Guard show up.

"I didn't know they were coming until they showed up," Paulson said. "It was just awesome to see those flags come in."

Veterans are traditionally held in high esteem in native culture.

"At our powwows we always honor our veterans," Paulson said. "I haven't seen a powwow yet they (the Honor Guard) haven't made it to."

The Ballroom was done up right for the powwow, with hand-made blankets hanging across one wall, powwow garb hanging across another and native artwork on display against a third. Tables were set up around the edges, and the middle was left open for dancing.

A feast was held that evening with turkey, venison, wild rice, beans and fry bread. That was followed by more dancing. The powwow started about noon and wrapped up in the middle evening hours.

The master of ceremonies was Ricky Smith of Callaway.

"He does a good job," Paulson said. "He has a lot of community pull behind him."

The powwow is for everyone, Paulson said.

"We invite not just the native community, but the whole community."

It was held on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which seems to be a good time for it and will probably be repeated next year, Paulson said.

But they don't call it a Thanksgiving gathering.

Traditionally, Paulson said, "we feast six to eight times a year when we gather in social gatherings like this -- the drums come out, we have a meal, everyone has a blast, and people go back where they came from. Almost every time we gather will be a big feast meal. But we can't say this is the Thanksgiving because in our culture they're all Thanksgivings -- we're giving thanks all the time."

Door prizes were given out, and 20 handmade blankets were given away to veterans and elders and other honorees throughout the powwow.

Paulson said his brother-in-law made the blankets himself, taking about two straight weeks of sewing and using about $1,000 worth of donated material.

"When we gift a blanket, the spirit helps that person for up to one year and helps heal them," Paulson said. The healing blankets are specifically made for those facing death or hard times, he said. It's considered an honor to receive one.

Paulson said the community center was "very willing to work with us. The standard rates are very easy. We really appreciate everything they've done. We're looking at next year expanding out to do winter stories here, too."

"I think we'll continue the powwows," he added. "It's awesome to see it do as well as it did."

The philosophy of the group is "take your time, do something, do it well, and it will continue," he said.

"We do have a vision of having a place in Detroit Lakes for a youth center. But we're going to go that direction when it's time."

Paulson is active in Naytahwaush with a group of his own called Oshkaabewisag (Messenger), which puts on weeklong wild rice camps and other traditional camps. DEBWE is becoming active in those camps as well.