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Powwow binds groups together


July 19, 2019

Jana Peterson

Destan Shabaiash, 7, dances with heart and soul Saturday at the Veterans Powwow held at the powwow grounds on the Fond du Lac Reservation. More than 400 dancers came to the powwow, and more than 300 veterans were honored over the weekend. Shabaiash was wearing a sash that shows he is the Junior Brave for the East Lake Powwow and community. Shabaiash is the son of Morning Star and Harvey Goodsky.

The sound of the drums spread out from the Big Lake powwow grounds like ripples in the water last weekend, as hundreds of people came together to celebrate the 26th annual Veterans Powwow at the Fond du Lac Reservation.

It was a wonderful gathering, said FDL veterans services officer Tom Whitebird.

"One way to get people together to show their support is having a powwow," he said. "We get a lot of people, and a lot of friendships there. It's a really good feeling for the veterans."

A number of dignitaries attended the powwow July 12-14 as well. All of the Reservation Business Committee members were there. U.S. senator Tina Smith came, as did Eighth District congressman Pete Stauber. Both politicians joined RBC members and others to greet the more than 300 veterans who turned out for the three-day event.

One of the active-duty servicemembers at the powwow was Army Sgt. 1st Class Anna (Rodaks) Stephens, who carried her family's brand-new eagle staff into the arena Saturday during the grand entry Saturday afternoon.

A red rectangle of fabric decorated with military patches and medals told the history of her family's three generations of military service, starting in 1928 and continuing through Stephens' current service. Attached to the flag were Golden Eagle feathers, which are sacred, said Stephens' uncle, Joe Rodaks.

Joe Rodaks, a Fond du Lac band member whose Ojibwe name is Zoongagamac - meaning "Strong Ground" - said getting an eagle for the flag was by far the most challenging part of making the family flag. There were people from the lieutenant governor of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources and Fond du Lac officials involved in the process, which took about seven years once they got on the list to receive an eagle.

"Then it came via UPS," he said, referring to the body of a pure immature golden eagle that arrived at his home one day.

In addition, Rodaks did extensive and meticulous research on each family member's military service, getting discharge papers to find out what medals were awarded, and when and where each person served.

An eagle staff is more than the sum of its pieces, he stressed. Once the staff is made, there are spiritual steps to be completed correctly. They held a feast for the staff on Thursday, the day before the powwow started, and offered tobacco in a prayer.

"One of the first questions I got today was 'Has that staff been feasted?'" he said.

It had. Everything was done right, and their family staff made its first appearance, carried by Stephens in her flowered dress, beaded earrings and Iraq War veteran's cap.

"It's a huge honor," she said. "This represents our whole family."

Jana Peterson

David Carson of Prairie Island dances in a vest made in the 1980s by his grandfather, Standing Bear. Carson said he had to make the vest extra-large, then came up with the rest of his regalia to go with the vest. The Minneapolis firefighter comes to the Veterans Powwow every year because he likes the traditional nature of the powwow.

Fond du Lac chair Kevin Dupuis, who served in the Marines, thanked all the veterans from Fond du Lac and other reservations, as well as the non-Native American veterans in attendance. The announcer read every veteran's name, and the line of dignitaries hugged them or shook hands.

Then there was dancing and eating, and people to see.

Whitebird said he loved seeing all of the people - the soldiers and veterans, as well as the dancers in their regalia.

"It's whatever they can create," he said, regarding the clothing worn by the dancers. "They're proud of it. I'm proud of them too. It's a nice thing to see. When I was growing up, it was never like that."

Whitebird, a Vietnam veteran, proudly noted that the Veterans Powwow at Fond du Lac is one of the longer-running powwows, and he hopes to keep it going long into the future.

"It's important to show our appreciation to the veterans," he said. "And it's good to see the Native people, and the other colors all together like that. There's no discrimination. That doesn't exist at powwow. All there is is people meeting together and having a good time."


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