The Wacipi way

The Young Kingbirds sat in a circle around their drum at UND Hyslop Arena on Saturday afternoon, each holding a single soft-tipped mallet, bending forward intently as they prepared to begin their song.

Time-Out Week 2011
Patricia Bugg, Red Lake, Minn., dances at the 41st annual UND Indian Association's Time-Out Wacipi at the Hyslop Sports Center in Grand Forks in 2011. Herald photo by John Stennes.

The Young Kingbirds sat in a circle around their drum at UND Hyslop Arena on Saturday afternoon, each holding a single soft-tipped mallet, bending forward intently as they prepared to begin their song.

A single beat put the drumming and singing in motion and then the young men around the drum began their celebration song for the judges. Some strokes were soft and light, others hit the drum like a sledge hammer. Their voices rose and fell as they sang. One singer put a hand to his throat and closed his eyes in concentration as his voice rang higher than the rest.

A crowd of people crowded around the Young Kingbirds, as they did for each drum group in turn as they sang. Many took pictures and video with their cell phones and other recorders. The judges looked solemn and wrote on their clipboards.

The UND Wacipi, now in its 41st year, is the powwow that more or less kicks off the powwow season for the Kingbird family, who are Ojibwe from Red Lake, Minn. The Wacipi began Friday night at Hyslop, continued Saturday with two sessions and a free traditional feast of buffalo and other foods. The last session begins at 1 p.m. Sunday with the final grand entry.

Mark Kingbird said he and his brothers and cousins (Saturday there were 13 around the drum) have been coming to the UND Wacipi since the 1990s to play and sing for the dancers and to compete for the drumming prize.


After a long winter, Kingbird said, the powwow circuit starts off at the UND Wacipi and then he and his wife and five children spend many weekends in the warm months traveling around Wisconsin and Minnesota and beyond to take part in other powwows.

They treat each spot like a stop on a vacation, he said, taking in the sights. They enjoy sharing their music and culture, seeing old friends and making new ones.

"It's fun to get out and meet new people," he said.

Saturday's Wacipi, sponsored by the UND Indian Association, began at 1 p.m. with the grand entry, a stirring sight as dozens of men, women and youth dancers in traditional and colorful regalia joined a processional into the arena, all to the singing and playing of the drum groups.

Led by a color guard of veterans in khaki camouflage, the dancers circled the arena until the flags and tribal staffs were in the middle surrounded by dancers whose regalia varied according to their tribe and the type of dance. Most of the men and boys wore roach headdresses with feathers, some with beading, ribbons and even small mirrors. Women and girls wore feathers, or a combination of beaded headbands and feather.

The most colorful and elaborate dancers were the men's fancy dancers, who wore double bustles of feathers on their backs, often in neon orange or green. Some male dancers also had arm bustles worn just below their shoulders, about the size of dinner plates, with feathers and other decorations.

Native people refer to the drums as the heartbeat of their people. At the powwow, the combination of song and the pounding drums were a beat that passed from one drum to the next. Then there were the tinkling of the jingles worn by women's jingle dancers, and the jingling of the bells many of the men wore around their legs and ankles.

The Wacipi is a celebration of nation and tradition, but it also felt like a big party. Families brought their elders and their tiny babies. Teenagers strolled the arena checking out other teenagers. Little kids ran and played. Adults greeted one another and visited.


Vendors were selling fry bread and chili, as well as dream-catchers, turtle shell rattles, moccasins, quilts, and lots of other ornaments. ROTC had a booth there as did a group fighting domestic violence. And there was a booth selling car and truck decals with native symbols and tribal names. They had bumper stickers too: "I may be older but I can still out dance you," and "Shut up and eat your fry bread."

Admission for Sunday's final session is $6, and free for people 60 and older, 5 and younger and UND students with ID.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to .

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