On the White Earth Nation in northern Minnesota, the tribe hosted an indoor powwow in early March roughly a year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. An indoor powwow had been unheard of in Indian Country since we learned the seriousness of the coronavirus.
On this powwow weekend, the virus didn’t win, culture did.
With his 4-year-old son by his side, Bryce King-Hanks experienced an emotion he hadn’t felt in months. The familiar heartbeat of the powwow drum, the sound he grew up with, had finally returned.
“It was such an awesome feeling seeing them people come in, the dancers, the singers. It felt good being after about a year and a half of no powwowing and singing like that to get out there and enjoy that. I brought my son with me and he had a really good time, it wore him right out because when we got home he went right to bed,” said 31-year-old King-Hanks.
White Earth is no different than any other community. It has been impacted by the coronavirus. But with positive case numbers shrinking by the week and a successful vaccine rollout, the tribe felt the time was right to host a healing gathering in the form of a powwow.
Dana Goodwin is a member of the powwow committee. She said the powwow was carefully planned with masks required for participants and attendees. Hand sanitizer was readily available at the powwow. Committee members, volunteers, vendors and others were asked to do a drive up rapid testing before the powwow, she said.
“We ensured that everyone attending was aware of the expectations. We limited the entrances to the casino, there were only three doing the powwow, otherwise there were only two doors open other than the fire exits. So people weren’t going in and out or coming in without being screened. We hired extra help to watch for that, to encourage people to wear their masks in case they had forgotten,” said Goodwin.
Vaccines were also available. On Saturday, before grand entry, Goodwin said vaccinations were offered nearby and a shuttle was available as long as those getting the shot committed to come back for their second shot in three or so weeks.
King-Hanks said he recently received his first dose of a two-dose vaccine. He’s a cultural teacher in White Earth. He got the vaccine for the safety of the students.
At the powwow, King-hanks said he felt safe and comfortable. He said he was pleasantly surprised at attendance. He sings with the White Earth Boys, a drum group of childhood friends. The powwow was a great opportunity to show his son their culture, he said.
“It was lovely. Everybody that I talked to, they’d say that it just felt good and being there, seeing everybody, especially when grand entry started, seeing all them dancers come out because we were right in the middle, and I just felt everybody coming around us. It felt good to get back out there. Talking to my brothers, my girlfriend, my mother, they were all there. It felt good to do that, everybody left with a good feeling, a happy feeling after the powwow was done. We were pretty exhausted, but it felt wonderful,” said King-Hanks.
The powwow was held in the Shooting Star casino’s event center in the town of Mahnomen. The powwow was live streamed on the tribe’s Facebook for those not able to attend. 18 drums and 295 dancers registered, a “nice amount,” Goodwin said.
“As a dancer myself, that heartbeat and the singing was healing. It’s like when you are away from a friend, a family friend, someone you loved for a long time and don’t get to hear them or be with them, that’s what it felt like for me. It’s a part of you and to have that back was incredible,” said Goodwin
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans. Masks are still recommended and social distancing is encouraged when out in public. One major change is that those vaccinated can now gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks.
Dalton Walker reporting for Minnesota Native News