The 2023 Meno Keno Powwow
The Forest County Powwow Grounds in Carter are alive with song and dance.
I’m standing at the edge of the pavilion, joining the hundreds of onlookers watching dancers take center stage.
A little girl in a jingle dress holds her stooped grandfather’s hand as they weave through the crowd.
Dancers in every color you can name spin and skip gracefully as the MC’s voice booms narration.
There are so many families at the powwow, laughing and smiling, sharing food and stories.
It’s day 1 of the Meno Keno Ma Ge Wen Powwow.
Before the events began, I spoke with Lisa Milligan, Powwow Committee Secretary.
For those who don’t know what a powwow is, she explained, “it's a form of celebration. So people come together to visit, dance. And there's vendors that come so they purchase items that they may want or need. And it's more of just coming together as Native people to celebrate our culture.”
I asked her how she thought this year would go.
“I'm going to say, expect a grand, spectacular... yeah, there's going to be a lot of dancers, it's going to be huge this year," she said.
And she was right.
At the 2023 Meno Keno Powwow, there were 463 registered dancers, surpassing last year’s show-out of more than 450.
Organizer Ruth Pemma reflected on the growth.
“It's getting bigger and bigger. And its customers like it and the singers like it. And it's a nice comfortable place that everybody realizes, with our big arena that we have, they feel comfortable there."
Just about everyone I talked to echoed that sentiment.
I spoke with one couple as they set up for the weekend.
“We like coming to the Carter powwows because the people are friendly. And they understand their own traditions and culture that helps us bring ours in. And we know they're going to be acknowledged, and they're going to be nice to us, we always come to their powwows,” said one woman, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Her husband reflected more broadly.
“We’re in a non-Native American world. We see all the things that we do like to, we do like okay, it's not all bad. We do like those different things. But, when it comes down to something like this, it's what we're truly about,” he said.
Pemma explained that Elder Bill Daniels had big dreams for the Carter Powwow.
He wanted to grow and expand it for the kids, the future seven generations after him.
After his passing, different organizers carried on his work.
This year’s women’s head dancer, Penelope Peters, has danced at this powwow for longer than she can remember.
Throughout her childhood, she was crowned Powwow Princess many times.
“I really never thought I’d get asked to be head dancer for any of our Powwows because usually they’ve asked people with like big names in Powwow Country and like my name isn't really that big, like a lot of people know me, but like, they usually ask like, like big names like, names that.. oh you probably don't know them," she laughed.
The 2023 men’s head dancer, Ira Frank, remembers coming to powwows as a child.
“I can remember, I don't know what my mom did or what she said. I can remember going to the powwow and having to dance the whole time, the whole powwow. You know I don’t know what my mom would say to me or why, but I just listened, I just knew I had to. I was there at the powwow to dance, and that’s what I came to do,” he said.
Now, Frank is a father himself, and his kids come with him each year.
“My daughter, she was the outgoing princess- she won last year. And I have a daughter that ran this year. She didn't get it. But it was okay, because she hadn't danced for a couple of years herself. So it was a learning experience for her,” he said.
Now, the powwow is over and the grounds aren’t teeming with families anymore.
But Powwow season continues across the continent.
Some of these vendors will pack up their beads or ribbon skirts, hit the highways, and continue their tour of different Native nations.
And next year, the dancers and vendors, singers and MCs will be back in Carter, keeping traditions alive from generation to generation.