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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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A Festival Atmosphere Provides Cultural Learning At Winter Camp 2017
by Ken Luchterhand - Hocak Worak

Wood smoke curled into the sky and the sound of people's cheerful voices filled the cold winter air behind the Tribal Office Building in Black River Falls.

About 300 people attended the Winter Camp 2017, held on Saturday, Jan. 28. Half of those in attendance were children, and all came to enjoy the festivities.

The cultural event was the creation of Heritage Preservation Executive Director Jon Greendeer.

"Winter Camp 2017 was an attempt to showcase a few small but intriguing parts of a vast way of life many of us don't get to see or experience in today's times," Greendeer said. "Although we have lost much, dwelling on our losses is not the key to the survival of Ho-Chunk way of life. Celebrating and passing down what we have, is."

The effort was a pilot program to see if the event was a good way to open doors to many people, especially the people who may not have access or who may not have felt particularly welcomed into this realm, Greendeer said.

Three tents utilized were from the Ho-Chunk Camp set up at the Oceti Sakowin site in Cannonball, North Dakota during the NoDAPL gathering of Water Protectors.

"Our communities hold men, women, elders, children, native, non-native, educated, experienced, from many walks of life. We want everyone a part of it even though we know some stations may be geared more specifically for a different group," Greendeer said. "For this reason, planning was careful to make sure there was a little something for everyone. We all live together and our practices have relied heavily on communal living and responsibilities."

Tent One allowed visitors to witness the metamorphosis from black ash log to basket or naa paa. Henning Garvin got the point across by explaining the conditions where black ash grows, how it is selected, and the work it takes to get it out of the woods. Greg Blick provided information about the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer and the effects on black ash trees, which are used for making baskets in Ho-Chunk culture.

"People want to learn to make baskets and think they're going to have all this material ready to start weaving baskets. It doesn't work like that," Garvin said.

As he demonstrated pounding the logs to lift the straps from the growth rings, Josie Lee and Henning's wife, Kjetil, highlighted the next phase of sorting and separating the materials so it can be used for weaving or ribboning. Guests found this process extremely exacting and ultimately learning that there is a lot of work before the work actually begins.

"In the end, a fantastic element of beauty is created and now that folks know what's behind it, there is more value attributed to that fine art," Greendeer said.

Tent Two took participants through all the steps needed to go from fresh off the deer hide to moccasins and other buckskin materials. Levi and Verna Blackdeer joined Roger and Junior Littlegeorge to show people how they scrape the flesh and hair off the hide to remove any fat and membrane that would prevent the brain solution from soaking into the hide.

Verna explained that pork brain is typically used in a cooked broth and worked into a scraped hide. Once done, it is thoroughly wrung and stretched on a rack. The hide may need to be scraped several times and worked into the material for hours. There is never a guarantee the final product will be soft or usable. If not, you start all over, she said.

Elena Greendeer, a master leatherworker, told visitors what she looks for when buying a hide, knowing that not all hides are the same or can fill the project she is working on. The size, softness, evenness of the coloring from smoking the hide, and holes and blemishes all play factors on whether a hide will sell for $350 or $1,000.

Tent Three brought visitors a little closer to the finer and more intricate arts of the Ho-Chunk people. Both Rita Kingswan and Kirsten Day showed visitors the work and patience behind detailed finger weaving for yarn belts and paxges, which is a traditional hairpiece worn by Ho-Chunk women.

"Both artists are so incredibly talented and knowledgeable, beyond these two art forms, and were able to expound on a variety of other topics," Greendeer said.

On display outside the camp were a variety of wooden bowls and spoons guests were welcome to closely examine.

Later, Randall "Naatisak" Blackdeer Jr. broke out his traditional lacrosse and double ball stick crafting operation. He demonstrated every phase of the operation from the original shagbark hickory log down to a detailed and intricate element of what is referred to as "The Creator's Game." Naatisak believes he may be the only crafter of these sticks in this nation of over 7,600 members. Certainly, a great addition to feature at the camp.

The "Big Top" tent housed some of the members of the Little Thunder singers who opened the drum to any male singer who wished to join and sing for their first time, Greendeer said. As well, the members were taught about the songs they sung and some of the "rules" singers and drum keepers must be mindful of before the first song is sung.

The centerpiece of the grounds was a bonfire – a place to warm up or engage in conversation.

"We thought we had enough s'mores supplies to last the day. We thought wrong," he said.

One of the most popular sites was facilitated by James Blackdeer. Challengers stepped up to play some Snow Snake, firing a carved stick down a trench made in a 300 foot channel of snow. They had a championship round and gave prizes for the longest distance.
The ciiporoke was used to house games from Paula Cleveland and Rita Kingswan who demonstrated some kaasu and pinaga. Later on, Larry Walker brought on the very competitive moccasin game where players were either hiding or looking for a shell under four covers or moccasins, while a singer continued on a hand drum until the seeker chose the correct hiding place.

George "Heezazuc" Garvin along with his nephew, Greg Blackdeer, made sure the traditional style soups were done to perfection. Over 130 pounds of beef, chicken, pork, and venison were served, with visitors evaluating how the food tastes based on how it is prepared, Greendeer said. As well, corn was prepared the same way and sweetened for a desert.

To compliment this meal, Margaret "Muggs" Garvin, Fawn Smith, and Rio Elise Greendeer fired up the stoves at the American Legion Post 129 Building and made several batches of frybread.

"The cafeteria at the Tribal Office Building offered the perfect atmosphere for masters like Myra Jo Price and Eliza Green who can turn yards of fabric star quilts, ribbon shirts, dresses, applique designs, and the list goes on," Greendeer said. "They said they could have used several more instructors because there's so much to teach but there's no doubt, their onlookers know how to begin their projects and where to look for guidance."

Every site was furnished with cards that related to the specific activity by the Language Division staff. These cards held several related words and phrases so that when someone decided to begin their activity, they could do so in the Ho-Chunk language. Even though staff was on site to assist in the pronunciation of these words and phrases, they remain "on call" to assist anyone anytime to promote the everyday use of the language.

Finally, the closing feature was held in the ciiporoke with Waika, or winter stories, by Elliott Garvin and Maxine Kohner. Nearly 80 people huddled together in the dwelling to hear about how the fox got the white tip on his tail, the battle between the Thunders and the Water Spirits at what is now called Devil's Lake, and how the yellow tassels of the corn was all that was left from a young non-native girl who disappeared.

Volunteers made the event a lot easier to conduct, especially when considering the number of stations provided and the resources used.

"We barely had to ask for help. The concept alone was absolutely magnetic," Greendeer said.

"I can't tell you where or what help was most appreciated but the Ho-Chunk Nation DNR and Maintenance Crew deserve a great portion of the applause," he said. "Members of the Office of the President and the Legislature also were present to help. It reminded me of something I heard - that it's better to get a little from many than a lot from a few."

Given the positive response from this first camp, organizers are enthused about setting up Spring Camp 2017.

"But before we can let our enthusiasm drive us, we'll have to sit down with the players and planners and map out the logistics," Greendeer said. "We've also discussed smaller, perhaps singular camps to go with the timing of when the sap is running, or the corn is ready. As well, maybe hosting extended camps for some of the arts you can't simply teach in a day or two."

Greendeer is humbled by the compliments given to him because of the effort given to Winter Camp 2017. But he equally feels appreciative to the many people who made it possible.

"Thank you all for coming. Thank you Ho-Chunk Nation and mostly, the Ho-Chunk community for making this a reality." he said.

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