The 2016 Oneida Powwow

A Review by: Larry P. MaddenOneida pow wow flyer

Saturday July 2nd greeted my Cousin Leonard and me with azure skies and a comfortable temperature. We were off to the Oneida Powwow, the biggest of the many tribal celebrations held by the Oneida Nation throughout the year.This competition powwow is attended by people from as far as the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, who are brought together to celebrate Indian culture and earn their paycheck. For those who don’t frequent powwows regularly, competition gatherings pay their winning dancers. The fact that money is on the line brings the best dancers head to head.

I can attest firsthand that Oneida’s production is well respected and well run. Things kicked off at 1:00 p.m., right on schedule, with dancers and drums from around the nation. The protocol for competition powwows varies from the traditional affairs, meaning that a lottery rather than protocol dictates the order. The randomly drawn card for Saturday was the Smoke Dancer’s, which was fitting seeing as it is an Iroquois traditional dance style from the host tribe’s longhouse culture.

The kaleidoscope of color from the ensuing grand entry was as exciting as any this reviewer has witnessed in quite some time. As the veterans and dancers filled the arena, the crowd kept growing, covering the shady hill and filling the covered pavilions. Crowds also filled the vendor area, giving the grounds the feeling of comradery and festivity often found in county fairs. My stroll through the vendors resulted in some handshakes and laughs with dancers, singers, friends and relatives.

I then took a trip through the veterans’ tent to thank them all for service past and present, which left me feeling good way down deep inside me. I suggest that whenever people attend a powwow they go down and shake the veterans’ hands and thank them for their service. Our gratitude is necessary and a cultural practice, because of both the veterans’ service to the USA and the fact that Indian people have always held warriors in high esteem.

After some fry bread and side pork, a white oak provided my Cousin Leonard and me shade as a fine makeshift umbrella. We watched the strong men and beautiful women as they swirled and twirled, mixing colors and styles together in a storm of emotions and energy. It was refreshing that the atmosphere remained pleasant despite cash being on the line. Money always brings the worst out in people, this I know, but you couldn’t tell it since the competitors, no matter how disappointed in the outcome, shook hands, smiled and wished one another well. Real Indian behavior was being demonstrated that day.

The Oneida 4th of July powwow is an excellent chance to see dance styles and regalia from around the Turtle Island. It’s a great place to bring a novice powwow friend and experience a carnival atmosphere and a community of friendship. Plan to go next year. Cousin Leonard and I will save some spots by the white oak, but you’ll have to purchase your own fry bread and side pork. Even the most hospitable of us have our limits.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.