The American Indian Quarterly 29.3 & 4 (2005) 505-509
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Celebrating the Indian Way of Life
The day of opening ceremonies at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC dawned beautiful and cloudless. Little did I know that it would also turn out to be a life-changing experience.
My friend Joan Staples (White Earth Chippewa) and I boarded the DC Metro system in our jingle dresses around 7 A.M. to head down to the Smithsonian Castle, which was near the staging area for the Native Nations Procession. We made quite a commotion with our dresses in the subway, where we had our first experience being photographed by someone's cell phone. We made even more of an impression when we later entered the Fine Art Museum in search of a restroom. We didn't realize we would have to first get past the metal detectors, which created quite a spectacle, given that we were each wearing about four hundred pieces of metal on our dresses.
The primary mood surrounding opening ceremonies was that of celebration. Never before had so many people representing so many different Indigenous nations come together in the nation's capital. Indigenous peoples from North and South America exchanged smiles, photographic moments, and cultural acknowledgement of one another's beauty, pride, and the strength that lifted up our people, despite centuries of colonization and oppression.
Many of us can rejoice in the fact that today we can still identify tribal people by their particular regalia, dances, and songs, proving that many survived the assimilation policies of governments. The spirit of the people had not been vanquished. There was something to be celebrated in understanding that today's surviving Indigenous people are the descendants of the strongest of the strong and that they have not only survived [End Page 505] but in many instances have learned how to adapt and thrive while continuing to maintain the essence of what it is to be an Indigenous person in this world. As renowned Maori artist Darcy Nicholas says, "I can never be my ancestor, and at the same time, he could never be me. Yet, ironically, I am he and he is me."
I wondered with amusement how the procession organizers planned to get twenty-five thousand Indians in alphabetical order by tribe in time for the 9:30 A.M. grand entry, but despite a few exasperated "Tighten the lines!" coming over the pa system, it seemed that almost all the participants found a place and were reasonably in order by the time it began.
I encountered my first tribal member from Lac du Flambeau while exiting the port-a-potty line. My cousin Bagwajikwe called out my name, and we were pleased to have family to walk with during the procession. Next I saw my high school friend Nils "Buster" Landin. His family, representing three generations, always danced in unison at our annual homecoming pow wow. Today, his children would carry in the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Nation flag, leading our contingent of about a dozen tribal members from Flambeau.
There can be no dancing without a song, and our brothers from Flambeau were one of the few groups to carry in a big drum, drawing a flurry of cameras and video footage wherever they sounded the heartbeat. Our band of Ojibwes came in right behind the band from Lac Courte Oreilles, also from northern Wisconsin. If all of the bands of Ojibwes from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, and Canada had come in as one group, we would have made quite a contingent of Anishinaabegs.
As the Lac du Flambeau band joined the procession, our men began to drum. The crowd on both sides began to cheer, and it was such an odd feeling; later on I would recall how it contrasted with what many of our tribal members experienced back in the early 1990s, as our men and women exercised our treaty right to spear fish in the ceded territories in northern and central Wisconsin. At that time the angry...