Brevin Boyd takes the floor, shouldering nearly 10 pounds of traditional Native American dress. High-pitched chants begin as a drumbeat sets the pace, echoing throughout the arena. He begins to dance. His headdress, made from porcupine quills, flows like waves as his feet pound with the beat. On his back he wears a large ring of eagle feathers. Bells and beads jingle as he and the other dancers move about the floor, some standing tall, others crouching low, always in motion.
This was the scene at the 2015 Hunting Moon Pow Wow. Hosted by Boyd’s tribe, the Forest County Potawatomi, the event takes place in the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, where they cover the flooring in soft red padding to make it more hospitable to dancers. At this year’s pow wow, in addition to the dancing and Grammy-nominated music, there will be dozens of vendors selling arts and crafts, as well as ethnic food, like Indian tacos and fry bread.
Now 17 years old, Crandon-based Boyd has been pow wow dancing for nine years and placed second at each of the last two Hunting Moons, his “hometown pow wow.” Boyd competes for a portion of the prize purse, split between the dancing, drumming and singing competitions, and specializes in the oldest form of Native American dance – Traditional. It’s one of four styles on display at Hunting Moon. There is also Jingle-Dress, in which women dance standing upright, wearing tunics with tinkling cones along the skirt that chime as they move. Long fringe that flows and waves highlights Fancy Dance. The dancers spin rapidly, looking much more graceful compared with the powerful, abrupt motions of Traditional dancers. Grass Dancing is predicated upon smooth leg motions and continuous bodily movement. This form derives its name from the cloth and yarn fringes that cover the clothing, resembling grass as the dancers move.
Pow wows, at their core, are gatherings of people looking for a good time, and a preservation of vibrant but dwindling cultures. Brooks Boyd, the Forest County Potawatomi’s executive council member and Brevin’s father, calls them “celebrations of life.”
“In the Indian way, we feel like everything starts from the inside of us,” Brooks Boyd says. “We act out how you feel. If you feel good on the inside, your actions are going to be good on the outside.”
Hunting Moon by the Numbers
- 30 North American tribes represented
- 75% of attendees are Native
- 2,000 expected attendance
- $99,000 handed out in prizes
- Top Ten its ranking among all U.S. pow wows in 2014 (Source: USA Today)
The first pow wows were held in the early 1800s, at a time when the North American aboriginal population was approximately 10 percent of what it had been when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. In the 20th century, the celebrations grew into large-scale, intertribal events. Each has its own identity. Montana’s Crow Fair has become known as the “teepee capital of the world,” and New Mexico’s Gathering of Nations is the biggest pow wow anywhere, with some attendance estimates topping 100,000. That crowd would flood even Lambeau Field, the largest stadium in Wisconsin.
Go See It
Oct. 14-16. UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, 400 W. Kilbourn Ave., huntingmoonpowwow.com