Drums and social distance: Indigenous community holds ‘drive through’ powwow

However, most powwows in Indian Country have been canceled this year, as many tribal nations are taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure people stay safe during the pandemic. Although the pandemic had shutdown this celebration for many during the powwow season, members of North Dakota’s Native American community were able to adapt and organize a socially-distant powwow on Sunday, Sept. 20.

About 50 people gathered at Minot State for a “drive through” powwow where dancers were spread apart and socially distant from one another. People could stay in their cars and watch the celebration from afar, where they could also tune into a radio station to hear music played by drum groups OakDale Singers and Ho Sica.

Normally powwows consist of hundreds of people gathered closely together to celebrate Native traditions and culture.

The powwow’s organizers said they were happy to organize the Sunday powwow, especially since many in attendance had not been to one all year.

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“It’s just such a part of people’s lives,” said Tawny Trottier Cale, powwow co-organizer and Urban Indian/Off Reservation Complete Count Committee member. “It gives them the opportunity to get their regalia on and to dance and to hear the drum. It means so much to people.”

The powwow was also held to encourage those in the Native American community to fill out the 2020 census and learn more about voting in the general election. Minot State University’s Native American Center, the Sacred Pipe Resource Center, North Dakota Native Vote and Census 2020 helped coordinate the event.

Trottier Cale said it was important to promote the census, because many Native Americans were undercounted in 2010.

Native Americans living on reservations were undercounted by almost 5% in the 2010 census, according to a report by the National Congress of American Indians. The data collected from the census affects the distribution of almost $1 billion in federal funds tribal nations in the U.S.

For Torance Henry, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and one of the powwow’s dancers, the socially-distant powwow was something that she was still getting used to.

“It feels funny because we’re not all in a circle dancing together just trying to get to know everybody,” Henry said. “Every time I used to go dance, I’d just find friends and go dance together and be proud and encouraged others to dance.”

Henry said she has been dancing at powwows since she was a kid, but she was excited to be at the drive through powwow because she had just gotten a new outfit and was happy to have an occasion to wear it.

In all, ten dancers had registered to dance to the drums on the Minot State University campus, and Kris Eagle, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said it felt good to be able to dance at a powwow again.

“The last one I’d been to was last January,” Eagle said. “It’s been a while.”

Trottier Cale said that when people heard about the drive through powwow, they were eager to attend.

“A couple people have said, “Oh yeah, an opportunity to drum? Heck yeah, we’re here for it.”

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report For America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com