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Indian Market and Powwow returns to The Fort

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By Deborah Swearingen

As the warm June sun beat down on the grounds of The Fort in Morrison, several men put on regalia embellished with beads, bells, eagle feathers and many colors.

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Soon, they would gather for the grand entry at the Tesoro Cultural Center’s 18th annual Indian Market and Powwow, but not before taking a moment to appreciate their culture.

Dancing and singing are spiritual practices for Native American tribes, and it’s a way for groups to join together and celebrate. Often, dancing is meant to lift the spirits of those who cannot join along, and that is a lot of the reason why Zachery Two Bulls of South Dakota likes it.

“That’s why we do this,” he said.

Just before noon on Saturday, a large crowd gathered around the circular dancing space, taking in the colorful sights and melodic sounds, and appreciating a culture different than their own. The cultural experience is huge for those of indigenous descent, but it’s also a large part of why the Tesoro Cultural Center hosts the yearly event for the public.

“It’s important because we’re bringing very important cultural heritage. … We’re making that possible for the public to come and experience,” said Brooke Traylor, managing director at Tesoro.

The two-day event featured a powwow dancing competition, a variety of demonstrations and tons of handmade art, and it served as a time to celebrate culture, dance and art. The art was juried by the Council for Indigenous Arts and Culture.

Pahponee, which translates to “snow woman,” was one of many artists at the event. Alongside her husband, son and grandson, she fired buffalo dung to make unique ceramic pieces.

Prior to her demonstration in the field behind The Fort, her husband, Greg Elston, helped tend the fire.

“I don’t know if there’s a fancy word for picking up dung out of a pasture, but I’m your guy,” Elston joked to those gathered in chairs awaiting the demonstration.

Additionally, Pahponee shared stories of her tribe’s history. She is a descendant of the Kickapoo and Potawatomi Nations, originally from the Great Lakes. As long as the buffalo have roamed North America, there has been pottery making, she said.

“The art of the pot and the art of working with all living things was natural to us because we lived outside,” Pahponee said.

“That’s why there was such a skill developed and such awareness and such devotion and such respect for all living things. Things underneath our feet were so important because when you’re walking or you’re looking for water or you need to eat, you have to be aware of what you can have and what you cannot have,” she added.

Her people used the buffalo for everything, including food, clothing and shelter. Eventually, the women learned that what they leave behind cannot be wasted either because it’s a part of nature.

“From a pottery standpoint and what I’ve done for years is I’ve tried to learn my art from the ground up,” she said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.