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Spring powwow returns to Cloquet schools

Ziigwan powwow celebrates American Indian Education program and students

The Cloquet Middle School gymnasium was transformed into a powwow grounds Saturday for the seventh annual Ziigwan (Spring) Powwow.

"It's a way we can honor our students, our program and our school," said Cloquet American Indian Education program director Teresa Angell. "And we invite the whole community."

Angell counted 300 people at the feast, plus others who came and went during the daylong event.

It was a happy occasion, the first school powwow after a three-year hiatus because of Covid-19. Adults were chatting in the bleachers while young girls got ready to dance. Eleven-year-old Melanie Peterson swapped out her tennis shoes for moccasins for the final touch before things got rolling. Frank Goodwin was the master of ceremonies, happily introducing the drum groups - eight in all - and dancers. The Duluth resident is a member of the White Earth Nation and was delighted to be back at the school.

"I invite everyone to have fun with me," he told the crowd. "We're back."

The first drum to perform was Little Horse. "He's only been there about a month," said Ojibwe teacher Julian Kitto, explaining they consider the drum a person. The Little Horse Singers were mostly students, with a few older men from Kitto's personal drum group.

"I think [drumming] really brings a sense of who they are and where they come from," Kitto said of the group of 14 boys. "It can really change someone's life. It's more than just sitting and singing, it's a way of life."

There were close to 30 adult dancers and 90 youth dancers there Saturday. Dancing styles reflected the regalia: jingle dancers, hands on their hips, bounced around the circle, maximizing the sound while the fancy shawl dancers twirled and swooped. Some adult women dancers preferred a more stately walk around the circle.

There were also competitions: all men's dancing, all women's dancing and a royalty contest which yielded two new Cloquet AIE princesses.

Cloquet's newest AIE Senior Princess, 16-year-old Aleeziah Stillday, is a jingle dancer.

"I love the sense of belonging and security that I feel while I am dancing. Every time I step into the circle, I feel the power and good medicine of our people," she wrote in her application. "Every step I dance I feel healed."

Jingle dancers are known as healers, she added.

Fifth-grader Credence Diver, 11, was selected as the Junior Princess.

She said her family told her she could dance before she could walk.

"I love going to powwows and I love my culture," Diver wrote. "Dancing is fun and makes my spirit happy!"

Cloquet High School's Cruz Whitebird was the head male dancer Saturday. Also a CHS tennis player, he wore his FDL Royalty Ogichidaa sash and a beaded cap and gently guided some of the younger dancers around the floor, like a big brother would.

He said he liked the school's Indian Ed program.

"It shows the diversity in our school," he said. "And the powwow is a really fun way to have everyone get together. Everyone is welcome - you don't have to be Native American."