A Day of Diversity

By Larry P. Madden

On Saturday, February 20th Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin celebrated a day of diversity. Representatives from cultures all around the world displayed foods, fashion and arts which dominated the Expo center at the local fairgrounds. Smells of Czech and Thai cooking mingled with those of German and Native American dishes. Brilliantly colored fabrics and exotic customs and costumes danced before the eye in an explosive ballet of color. Organizers added to the color display by using a flag procession to start the festivities.flag presentation

The Brothertown Nation representatives led the procession with an Eagle Staff and Tribal flag flanking Old Glory. Elder Dick Welch and tribal member Skip Blanc did the duties for the aboriginal contingent as each nation posted their colors. The Williams family troupe of singers and dancers, along with the Gee ta sae drum, provided the songs and heartbeat for the Native American Indians’ dance demonstration. Opening statements by the always active and vibrant Jessica Ryan of the Brothertown Nation further primed the crowd to the heartbeat of the activity. Nemanau Makwa of the Mohican Nation addressed the crowd concerning the type of dancers and respective styles of dance. Gordon Williams spoke after a couple of intertribal dances as to the history of the big drum in the Midwest. They implored the crowd to join, and people came and danced to the powerful sounds of the Gee ta sae men and women singers. Next, Rodger Straw, a Brothertown member and participant in last summer’s Mohigunii, Lenape, Delaware and Brothertown gathering, brought forth the Duck Dance, a gift from Delaware relatives from Oklahoma.

The Duck Dance is a form of what’s commonly called social dancing which is practiced among the longhouse peoples of the eastern woodland nations. The Oneida dance troupe performs social dances in their Smoke Dance demonstration, which can be seen at many of the Powwows in the Wisconsin area. One of the dances they performed at the Wi Chin din festival on the Mohican Nation reservation is the Skin Dance. As the story goes, the Delaware asked the powerful Iroquois Confederacy to preserve the Skin Dance for the Delaware as they were under duress and on the move looking for a home. The privilege to perform and revive the Duck Dance among the Mohican and Brothertown people is considered a valuable cultural coup. The dance was performed in the winter when the Longhouse was the social center for the people. It’s a fun dance where woman dance backward and the men dance toward the woman quacking and flapping their wings moving around the women to dance with the next pair at the prescribed verse in the song being sung on the water drum.

The foolishness of the men always induces a laughter that makes audible the strength of the social encounter. The Native contingent was followed by a troupe of Island musicians from the Caribbean Isles whose rhythms had the crowd swaying to the tropical beats and a cover of a Bob Marley song. Act after act brought exotic and exciting performances that one would be hard-pressed to find mingling together. The beautiful regalia worn by the Thai and Hmong peoples provided a treat for the eyes as well as the ears with their hauntingly stirring music. The beauty was not confined to the Asian performers: Polish, German, and Czech in traditional garb, with the decorative needlework and varying style being as delightful as enlightening concerning the regional differences. The French demonstration of a Torch singer, crooned out a smooth and seductive series of songs typically heard exclusively in century-old black and white movies.

In past diversity celebrations, the crowd size was the first thing that caught my attention. The interest in the event by the people of Winnebago County and the surrounding communities was very impressive. It made the 130 mile journey seem well worth the time and effort. The idea of the classic northern European immigrants is what one might expect, the Asian communities were quite a surprise to see and the diversity and amount of countries represented really was eye opening. Wisconsin probably isn’t the place one would expect the large turnout, but the beauty and colorful regalia of the orient was quite the striking display. Not that the German, Polish and Czech regalia isn’t colorful and beautiful, but maybe it’s the unfamiliarity of the orient that caught my eye. The group crooning a Bob Marley tune in full Caribbean style proved the acts were quite varied and unique.

Not every nation had an act this year, but each had its wares for sale or inspection with many providing a treat from the part of the world they hailed from. Polish sausage, cornbread, French-style snails, Menominee-style wild rice soup, and much, much more was on the tables to sample at no cost. Fine art, folk craft and social information on various subjects were to be had at the hall full of booths. This year’s turnout was substantial, but it could also be the unseasonably warm fifty degree weather that brought out the crowds. So if you and yours want a taste treat both physically and intellectually, check out Fond du Lac’s Diversity Celebration every February.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area, recent graduate of CMN, enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road. He’s found his recent enlightenment to the Arts to be quite satisfying.