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Dancing to the drumbeat: BSU holds 47th Annual Powwow at John Glas Fieldhouse

Emma Kingbird of Red Lake dances on Saturday during the 47th Annual Powwow at BSU. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 4
Jaron Smallwood dances on Saturday during the 47th Annual Powwow at BSU. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Four-year-old Deucalion Hunt works his way across the dance floor on Saturday leading up to the 47th Annual Powwow at BSU. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 3 / 4
Brian Neeland dances on Saturday during the 47th Annual Powwow at BSU. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 4 / 4

BEMIDJI -- Brendan Strong stood outside BSU’s John Glas Fieldhouse on Saturday, quietly singing an Ojibwe song into the recorder on his phone.

Coming from Red Lake, he was at the University to drum in the 47th Annual Powwow, organized by the Council of Indian Students. While taking a few moments away from the powwow outside the gym, he recorded his composition to help his fellow drummers learn the words and rhythm.  

“It’s good to share music (with) each other,” Strong said, explaining how he writes for several different categories of dance. “You have to sing for that specific category.”

The largest student-led event on campus, the powwow draws crowds of up to 1,000 spectators who come and go throughout the day. Running from 1 to 9 p.m, the powwow acts as a way for Native bands to celebrate and showcase the Ojibwe culture at the university.

“I think this celebration of culture is important to have at BSU, considering it is surrounded by three of the largest reservations in Minnesota,” said Chelsey Jourdain, president of the Council of Indian Students. “It is good to have community inclusion at the powwow and it helps American Indian students feel included.”

Four-year-old Deucalion Hunt works his way across the dance floor on Saturday leading up to the 47th Annual Powwow at BSU.Even outside near the parking lot where Strong was recording his song, the drums from the powwow could be heard -- muted but steady from within the gymnasium walls. And with every step closer, the sound grew with intensity.

In the lobby, where the music was just a little louder, spectators and dancers waited in line for food from the vendors. Merchandise booths were also set up nearby.

Just a few more steps inside the gym, the music pulsated through the air as dancers in full regalia made their way around the floor, dancing around a group of drummers stationed in the center of the room.

The drummers pounded their instruments; the dancers moved effortlessly across the floor -- the jingles on their clothes clanging to the movement.

And while they all may have come to take part in the powwow, they represented a range of ages and backgrounds.

At nearly 70 years old, Leland Whitefeather from Ponemah has been dancing at powwows for decades.

BSU freshman Maria Acosta danced in the local powwow for the first time. And her grandmother, Donna LaSieur, drove four hours from the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin to watch.

Like many of the dancers, Mijakwad Johnson, 17, of Cass Lake said he’s been dancing since he was a young child. And for him, the experience is a way to honor others within his community.

“I enjoy dancing for the elders and people who can’t walk; they don’t have the ability to move like I could, so I dance for them,” Johnson said.

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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