Celebrating friends and relatives, turning adversity into abundance

Published in Native Sun News in June 2011.

Longtime emcee and Lakota elder Jerry Dearly presided over spectacular dancing and singing and plenty of rejoicing at the Fort Randall Casino Powwow June 23–25 on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, in Marty, South Dakota. The tribe was celebrating the recent historic U.S. Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed its boundaries and should allow it to turn its attention to other pressing needs. The casino itself was enjoying simultaneously its 20th anniversary and the grand opening of a classy new building, including an expansive gaming floor and gift shop.

Over the next several years, a new hotel, convention center, and swimming pool will be added to the complex, according to tribal chairman Robert Cournoyer. He said that demolition is probably in the cards for the present hotel, which many will long remember fondly for its old-time Wild West–style wooden façade and for the tasty meals dished up at its friendly restaurant.

Among those honored at the powwow were a Japanese family that escaped the recent earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, with the clothes on their back and fled east with Yankton Sioux tribal member and spiritual leader Frank Sanchez Iron Eagle, who was visiting Japan at the time. He brought them into a Sun Dance on the reservation, after which they were adopted into the tribe and received Indian names.

It soon became apparent that, on the one hand, the father of the family is a dentist, and on the other hand, the Yanktons have no dentist. The father is now hoping to settle his family on the reservation and to work at the IHS hospital there, along with his daughters, who are dental assistants. The grateful refugees shed tears as they were fêted with a blanket dance at the powwow.

Another group of honorees (pictured above) was the Lightning Stick Society, 18 boys aged 3 to 15 who had just finished a lacrosse camp run by professional player Brendan Shook, along with Brett Hughes, another pro who works for sports outreach group Lacrosse the Nations. The coaches arranged for substantial equipment donations, including sticks, helmets, goals, and a ball wall. Mentoring the boys was an Ihanktonwan men’s group, the Elk Soldier Society.

Lacrosse is similar to an old Dakota ball-and-stick game called shinny, said Faith Spotted Eagle, member of the Bravehearts, a women’s society that co-operates with the men’s group on numerous projects and issues and helped organize the lacrosse camp. “Shinny’s Dakota name translates as ‘Little Brother of War.’ That’s because it was used for conflict resolution. As a result, shinny, as well as today’s lacrosse, are great for our boys for so many reasons. They learn teamwork and a great way to work out differences, get wonderful outdoor exercise, and interact with positive male role models,” said Spotted Eagle. “And they have lots of fun.”

Scrimmages took place on the nearby historic Fort Randall parade ground, across the Missouri River from the Yankton reservation. Said Elk Soldier Society member Kip Collins during a practice, “This place gives me the chills. Sitting Bull was held here. And not that long ago, soldiers from places like Fort Randall were saving bullets by using rifle butts to kill our children. By playing on this field — which mainstream society considers sacred ground — our kids have reclaimed it.”

“Spiritually, thanks to these boys, that land is now ours,” society member Glenn Drapeau told the powwow crowd, then added, “Besides, we Yankton people have always been rowdy and ready to stand up for ourselves!” He then led the beaming boys, their families, the coaches, the Elk Soldiers, and the Bravehearts out into the circle to accept lots of handshakes and congratulations all around.

Text and photograph c. Stephanie Woodard.

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