The History of the Butterfly, Part 141: Dancing for the Amusement of Spectators

Yesterday my family and I went to the 98th annual Meskwaki Pow Wow.

This is a four-day celebration, descended from the “green corn festival”, that includes dancing and singing for spectators.  It is a very charming thing to witness, although it was marred by a food stand burning down during the show.

It is put on mainly for the benefit of the Meskwaki, and other tribes are welcome.  It is open to the public and it is quite a charming event.  I would recommend it to anyone who is the least bit interested.  The dancing and the music is unique and very good.

The spirit of the event, at least towards the spectators, can be summed up sort of like this:

“Here we are.  This is who we are.  We are celebrating our culture–come celebrate it with us.”

I have been looking at the early history of Iowa as a part of telling the story of the Poweshiek skipper and of Poweshiek.  Poweshiek was the leader of a group of the Meskwaki during the time of Indian Removal.  He signed a treaty which sold the major portion of Iowa to the federal government in exchange for protection and money.  Indian agent John Beach colluded with traders to cheat the Meskwaki out of a significant portion of their annuities then suddenly resigned.  (This is not speculation on my part–it was the subject of a many-page report to Congress from the War Department–I will discuss this sometime in later posts).  The federal government did not protect them from other tribes hostile to them.  So Poweshiek re-entered Iowa on a couple of occasions and tried to co-exist with the rapidly expanding settlements there.  Soldiers were sent to remove him again.

Here is a quote from Old Fort Snelling, 1819-1858,  written by Marcus L. Hansen, and published in 1918.

“Proceeding to the vicinity of Marengo, a council was held with the Indians.  But the latter marched into the council ten abreast carrying their war clubs and manifesting such a hostile disposition that is was impossible for Major Woods to accomplish anything.

For a while it seemed that active military operations would be necessary.  The Indians becoming convinced that this would be the result, and fearing that all the expenses of the campaign would be deducted from the annuities of the tribe, suggested to two men of the neighborhood–a Mr. Steen and a Mr. Greenly–that they would go back to their homes if these two men could be appointed their guides.  When Mr. Steen and Mr. Greenly broached the subject to Major Woods he considered it thoughtfully, and finally an arrangement was made.  For every Indian who left the Iowa River and was turned over to their agent west of the Missouri River, the government was to pay three dollars and  fifty cents.  Five hundred dollars was to be advanced to pay for the provisions of the party.  Upon June 6th a second council was held with the Indians, during which Major Woods impressed upon Chief Poweshiek and his men the necessity of their returning and the advisability of their doing it peacably.

During the month of July the Indians started upon their journey.  For several days they encamped near Fort Des Moines, and on July 16th seventy of the warriors, armed and painted, paraded on horseback through the streets of the town to the public square where for an hour they danced for the amusement of the two or three hundred interested spectators in the frontier town.”

I am sure it looks a lot different now.  But was part of it the same?  Was part of the message “Here we are.  This is who we are.  We can live together.”

There is a diplomacy in music and dance.

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About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in American Indians, Meskwaki, The History of the Butterfly, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The History of the Butterfly, Part 141: Dancing for the Amusement of Spectators

  1. theresagreen says:

    That is a powerful piece of writing; you have a wonderful ability to convey much through a minimum of words with pragmatism and diplomacy. Best wishes, Theresa

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