Letter: Kids find hope and pride in Detroit Lakes powwow

Within an hour of the grand entry, my daughter's non-native friends were all out in the arena with her during Intertribal songs, full of curiosity, new dance moves, and smiles.

Young Warriors Drum Group (edited).jpeg
The Young Warriors Drum Group performing at the powwow.
Contributed photo

I would like to express my gratitude to the Detroit Lakes School District and the planning committee for their efforts in hosting a powwow celebration that was held on March 31.

As a parent and local powwow dancer, my heart exploded with happiness as I danced around the arena at the Lakeshirts Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon.

As someone who worked in K-12 schools for over 15 years, I am familiar with the planning and coordination it takes to put on an event like this. Watching students from all types of backgrounds and experiences come in and out throughout the afternoon was truly amazing!

I picked up my fifth grade daughter and three of her friends from the elementary school at 11 a.m. that day and we headed towards the high school to get ready for the noon grand entry.

My daughter was a bit nervous before the powwow, she wondered if it was going to be a “real powwow” and what it might be like with her non-Native friends and classmates there.


Her friends stuck by her side the entire time as she got ready. They helped lug in suitcases from the vehicle filled with dance accessories, moccasins, and beadwork. They helped carry heavy bags of fancy shawls and jingles dresses. They watched intently as she got her hair braided by a high school girl sitting on the bleachers. They handled her beautiful, beaded crown with care and watched as she put it on her head before going into the grand entry to represent her home community of Pine Point.

Within an hour of the grand entry, her friends were all out in the arena with her during Intertribal songs, full of curiosity, new dance moves, and smiles.

Daughter and non-Native Friends (edited).jpeg
The author's daughter (in dance regalia) and her friends at the Detroit Lakes powwow.
Contributed photo

Later in the afternoon, the emcee announced that there would be a dance competition. My daughter hurried to the arena floor ready to dance as best she could in her fancy shawl outfit. As the judges announced the winners and she walked up to the stand for her prize and a picture, I looked at her watching her classmates from Roosevelt cheering her on from the walking track above.

Instead of a look of embarrassment, which she thought she might have prior to the powwow, I saw a different look; I saw a proud young Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe female). I know her relatives and ancestors that came before her were bursting with joy from above.

Many of her ancestors were forced into boarding schools, told their cultural ways were evil, and were punished for speaking their Ojibwe language. Fast forward a few generations and here is my daughter at her public school standing proudly as she introduced herself in the Ojibwe language at grand entry, danced with her whole heart during a competition, and proudly accepted her prize as her schoolmates embraced the entire experience.

I think the powwow was such a great step toward helping our Native students in the district feel connected to the school. On March 31, their culture was celebrated, not on reservation land where most powwows take place, but in a border town that educates many of our Native children.

The school planned and rearranged an entire day to help create space for students to show the beauty and elegance of their culture.

My sixth grade son and several of his friends, some who are Native American and some who are African American, were part of a drum group at the powwow – the Young Warriors.


Many of these same boys are also on a travel basketball team, which is filled with so much talent and drive. When I see this sixth grade team representing Detroit Lakes as we travel from place to place, I see a lot of diversity.

Oddly, when I see the Detroit Lakes varsity basketball team, I don’t see a similar thing. I often wonder “what happens?” and “where does the disconnect happen?”

What happens from elementary, to middle school, and then to high school?

If you ever want to see this phenomenon for yourself, just go to the DLCCC in the winter months when they host their Saturday morning youth basketball league. You will see so many minority children in the Detroit lakes area dribbling up and down the court with smiles on their faces.

Next, go watch a varsity basketball game at the high school a few days later; you will see the diminished minority representation on the court. My dream is to see many of the Young Warriors Drum Group members make the varsity basketball team one day, showing their Laker Pride in the Lakeshirts Fieldhouse gymnasium that supports both their culture and their athletic aspirations.

My dream is to see our minority kids have more teachers and coaches come from where they come from. When my children's father, me, and our younger kids were at the high school for conferences a few weeks ago, there was no question as to whom we connected most with … Mr. Snetsinger, who comes from “The Rez.” I hope our school district can recruit and retain more Mr. Snetsinger’s of the world.

When I was dancing around the Laker Fieldhouse on Thursday, I felt some of my ancestor’s dreams coming to fruition. It wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of so many individuals.

So, from me and my children’s ancestors, we say Miigwech for making this powwow come to life. I can’t wait to see how it grows and how we can all work together to blend, celebrate, and honor all cultures in our awesome community of Detroit Lakes!

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