Garb adorned with bird objects of a typical yet distinct sort was among the regalia featured by dancers at an intertribal pow-wow at the historic Fort Omaha parade grounds.
The wacipi on Saturday, September 21st, was hosted by the Omaha Tribe, native to this region of the Missouri River valley.
During dance after dance, carried by steady drumming, the men displayed a standard set of regalia. Each in the Young Buck dance had a feather bustle of a small or grand sized bunch of feathers on the backside, in a length that varied. They had an eagle wing fan, and some carried a durable wooden staff decorated with dangling feathers, and one with raptor talons on the top.
The winner of the this dance â€“ from among about eight men – had a bustle with two rows of eagle feathers the outer row black, while the inner row, was a shorter bunch, white tipped with black. A set of distinctive feathers yellow tipped with black – the mark of the flicker â€“ dangled from his headband, along with a small beaded dreamcatcher. A thunderbird design was the dominant motif on his vest. He added sounds from his flute for the grand circle around the dance area, receiving accolades for his presentation of the heritage of the people.
The Golden Eagle was the most obvious species featured. A ceremonial staff featured at the announcerâ€™s booth – adorned with the carefully tended head and nape, below which hung a dream-catcher and more eagle feathers – was kept in prominent display for the duration of the wacipi.
Bird garb was fashioned in several ways by the menâ€™s fancy dancers, with their head-dress, bustles and objects. Their moves and antics – despite everything they wore and carried – were bold and quick, like a warrior. Mammal skins were also worn by a few.
It was a grand day for an outdoor ceremony on the lawn of the central parade grounds at the fort, surrounded by a ring of trees, on an 80-degree day with some sylphish clouds. First in the competitions was for a new Princess, another young woman to represent the peopleâ€™s tribe. Then a womenâ€™s jingle dance, and the womenâ€™s traditional dance with 30 women participating.
Six drum groups were present, with turns taken for each bunch of about 6 men actively working the sticks banging at the big, tight-skin instruments beating as the heart of those gathered. There were several opportunities for everyone to join in with the dancing.
â€œWeâ€™re all native to this earth â€“ everybody come and dance,â€ repeated the event announcer.
The people celebrated again, their tribal traditions.
For the Grass Dance, about 15 prepared participants moved to the steady sound rolling across the fort grounds. The people celebrated again, the tribal traditions for the people on the plains.
We are having a thrill from â€œpeople participating in our ways,â€ a tribal elder said in a recognition during the afternoon.
The womenâ€™s apparel had its own unique accessories, but this meant more jingles, turtle motifâ€™s for the beadwork, colorful fabrics carefully sewn, and perhaps a single feather carefully worn. Many carried a wing fan during their performance, and the Princess candidates also had theirs.
Each dancer typically wore bells of various sorts on their ankles. It was a classic scene in the Indian way on the earth.
Each of the men had a head ornament. The feathered head-dress was â€“ as it usually can be â€“ distinctive with long wing and tail feathers presented in various ways, from the single row down the middle, or a few dangling towards the back. Some of the feathers had been colored to green, orange or yellow.
Among the appreciative crowd, when the dancer took a pause, the adornments were carefully handled and prominently placed. An eagle feather bustle was carefully hung from the back of a chair. One man, held on his lap a short staff topped also with an eagle head, the piercing eyes and opened, raptorial beak still conveying the spirit of the winged ones, an essential feature of the dayâ€™s ceremony.
Ten years after its origins, 1878 Fort Omaha became headquarters for the Department of the Platte, hosting many a gathering of the native peoples of the distant lands, traveling to deal with the government.
A pow-wow is held annually, this year having the requisite booths, with edibles, crafts and trinkets to buy. There was also story telling, and a display of tribal pictures. Dance winners received gifts and a cash award. There several hundred people present.
â€œThe historic parade ground and exteriors of brick buildings cannot be altered,â€ according to historians. The fort is now a carefully tended campus of Metropolitan Community College.