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VIDEO: Healing the body, spirit and mind: Powwow honors doctors, healthcare workers and holistic healers

(From left) Kylee LeBlanc of Bemidji and her sister, Tyler LeBlanc, dance at the Healing Powwow on Thursday evening at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. In the background left is Alexis Jones. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Moccasins, sandals and sneakers padded the blessed green earth Thursday afternoon west of Sanford Bemidji Medical Center on Anne Street in Bemidji. A blue sky, light wind and warm temperatures combined to create an elementally ideal environment for this year's healing powwow.

The event was presented by Sanford Bemidji, Red Lake and Cass Lake Indian Health Services Hospitals and the White Earth Health Center. The powwow was created to honor physicians, healthcare workers and holistic healers who are dedicated to promoting physical, mental and spiritual health in the community.

"We all have mutual patients," said Vikki Howard, Indian health advocate/patient relations at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

"One of the things it's important to know, is a lot of people get sick with a lot of different diseases," said Joe Johnson, a retired Sanford employee and event organizer. "One of the reasons we have these kinds of celebrations is to show gratitude and thanks for healing."

Johnson joined the Sanford staff in 2005. He said during his fight with cancer he tried both traditional and western medicine for healing. Johnson is cancer-free today.

The healing powwow has taken place at Sanford since 2001 with a few breaks in between.

"It's a longstanding tradition," said Lindsey Wangberg, director of marketing for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

Bells jingled as dancers walked by in their fluorescent and earth toned regalia adorned with bead work and feathers. Hundreds of dancers from tiny tots to approximately 50 registered women dancers participated in the healing powwow. Some attendees were rolled over the grassy plain in wheelchairs to be part of the community celebration.

"I feel like each year more and more people come," Johnson said. "Over the years, this is one of the events a lot of traditional dancers like to come to."

The public was invited to experience the cultural event and "celebrate a heritage of healing."

"I think it's important for the staff to understand the culture of the people they serve," Wangberg said.

"It's important to make that connection," agreed Dan Olson, president of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

Vendors were an addition to this year's healing powwow. Approximately a dozen booths set up along the field line to provide health education and sell Native American crafts, artwork and foods. Olson said Sanford plans to host the powwow again in 2015.

Feast to festival

A feast of Red Lake walleye and Leech Lake wild rice was served to approximately 750 guests. Fifty volunteers staffed four serving lines to complete doling out the community meal.

The Red Lake and Leech Lake tribal councils donated the food from their respective reservations. Corn, dinner rolls and berries were provided by Sanford. The Bemidji Fire Department provided fryers for the fish.

"They're healthy foods," Howard said. "It's a ceremony from the beginning, we open it up with prayer and we give thanks. We offer thanks for the food. The food is blessed, the ground is blessed."

Color Guards from Bemidji, Red Lake, Cass Lake and White Earth were invited to post the colors prior to first Grand Entry dancers entering through the cedar adorned doorways. Cedar itself is a medicine, Howard said.

"This is how we honor our vets," emcee Murphy Thomas said. "They are the first to enter the sacred circle."

Thomas, of Ponemah performed the ceremony's opening prayer. As the Color Guards were advancing, Thomas said he was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Next, booming drum beats and victorious vocals were performed by Ultimate Warriors of Cass Lake and Eyabey of Red Lake. After the Grand Entry had concluded, dancers competed in a spot dance in which the winner, the dancer closest to the spot when the dance is finished, won a night at Palace or Northern Lights Casino. The casino packages were donated by Leech Lake Gaming.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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