Blue Water Traditional Pow-Wow returns, a celebration of indigenous culture

Traditions are important to many families and cultures. It is a handing down of beliefs, or information passed from one generation to the next that gives us a sense of belonging and are typically something to look forward to.

An honored tradition practiced by indigenous cultures to gather together, the Blue Water Area hosted its first pow-wow in several years at the Fort Gratiot Light Station this past weekend. The efforts of local organizations such as Port Huron Museums, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, and the Blue Water Indigenous Alliance supported its return which drew people from all across the country looking to experience their first pow-wow, as well as many who have participated in their fair share over the years.

Adrian Harjo, the Master of Ceremonies for the pow-wow traveled from Kansas to be a part of the event. He shared a brief history of his tribe, the Kickapoo/Seminole, and its connection to the Blue Water Area.

“We once lived in this area a long time ago,” Harjo says. “We were at war with the Mohawk tribe and they pushed us out. We moved down into Iowa and then into Kansas. Some of the band kept going into Oklahoma and settled there, but others kept going as far south as Mexico.”

He went on to joke about how he and his wife play around about the fact that she is actually from the Mohawk tribe.

The 2022 Blue Water Traditional Pow-Wow was held at the Fort Gratiot Light Station on Saturday, Aug. 27.

A vendor at the 2022 Blue Water Traditional Pow-Wow cooks fry bread.The pow-wow was host to several vendors each offering resources or cultural wares for those in attendance. There was traditional Native American food available such as wild rice soup which includes spices and root vegetables such as carrots. There were pow-wow regulars such as the buffalo burger, buffalo chili, and a fan favorite, fry bread. Traditional fry bread consists of creating a flat dough from wheat flour, sugar, and other ingredients that is fried in oil or lard. It can be eaten plain or with a variety of toppings such as honey or cinnamon sugar for a sweet treat, or savory items such as chili or taco ingredients.

Cheryl Morgan, an author from Kimball, was in attendance promoting her first book, “Ottissippi: The Truth About Great Lakes Indian History and The Gateway to the West.” She says Ottissippi means clear waters and the book covers Native American history in this area, encompassing the Northwest Territory and the people who came from the east coast.

“There were about 20 tribes connected to our area, but in the book I kind of focus more on the Three Fires people,” Morgan says. “I wasn’t planning on writing a book. It started out with the idea of creating a pamphlet that would tell us about the natives of our area and now it’s a 640-page book.”

Judy Peters, eagle staff carrier.

There are individuals designated to certain positions and roles based on tradition at the pow-wow as well. Whether it be an elder or prominent figure carrying the eagle staff, a particular dance, or another important position such as the Fire Keepers.

Before a pow-wow begins, a sacred fire is lit to cleanse the premises and bless the ceremony. The sacred fire is surrounded by four sacred plants such as tobacco, sweetgrass, cedar, and sage in accordance with the cardinal directions. Each rests on a platform covered with a particular color such as red, yellow, black, and white, which represents the medicine wheel. It is a sacred ceremonial area and not intended for gathering or socializing.

Harold Watts, Fire Keeper, presided over the fire and was accompanied by others who also kept watch.

“Once the fire is lit, it is kept lit and watched over throughout the course of the pow-wow,” he says. “Individuals take a pinch of each plant, hold it near their heart, and say a prayer to the creator before then laying the plants into the fire. The smoke produced carries the prayers up.”

Lucille Pastor, the newly-crowned Pow-Wow Princess, poses for a photo at the Blue Water Traditional Pow-Wow.

Another traditional part of a pow-wow is the Pow-Wow Princess Pageant. The princess, along with other members of specific position or title, participate in dancing around the arena in celebration of the winner. A new princess is crowned at each pow-wow and this year's winner was 15-year-old Lucille Pastor, a student at Algonac High School.

There were male and female dancers who performed traditional dances as crowds gathered to watch. There was also a period called Intertribal Dance, where those in attendance were allowed to dance in the arena regardless of culture, age, or other barriers.

“Being Ambassador makes me feel closer to my culture and I really enjoy dancing in the arena,” Morgan says. “I can feel the music and I also enjoy watching the other dancers as well.”

Read more articles by Harold Powell.

Harold Powell is the Community Correspondent for The Keel and owner of Phantom Pen Media offering multimedia services to individuals and organizations across the Blue Water Area. He is a current board member for the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce and the most recent Chamber Choice recipient at the Eddy Awards. Harold is an avid volunteer for the YMCA of the Blue Water Area as well as Bridge Builders Counseling & Mentoring and in his spare time, enjoys spending time with his son, writing and listening to music, playing video games, and not folding laundry.