Oneida Nation’s 45th Contest Powwow, 2017

by Larry P. Madden

The Oneida Nation’s 4th of July Powwow always features some of the finest dancers in America. For the past 45 years, this event has Oneida pow-wow scene been one of the Midwest’s premier competition powwows, and the pride in each event is evident on the face of the community as I waited for the Grand Entry to begin. Certainly, the dancers’ brows showed the tension of the forthcoming three-day competition, but as the brave men of the Color Guard took their positions in readiness of their duty to be performed, I couldn’t help but reflect on how awesome this annual event truly is.

It’s no accident that Oneida’s is a powwow that’s entertaining for both newcomers and grizzled old veterans alike. They put a lot of effort into inviting the general public and overcoming some people’s mistaken belief that it’s a gathering that only Indian people can attend. On the contrary, the powwow is a child friendly, open arms affair welcoming all who care to attend—which is hardly a surprise. Traditionally, strangers were always welcome to be a part of woodland culture.

July 4th is a special date for the Oneida as well, because they fought alongside the American contingent in the Revolutionary War. Their allegiance caused a rift within the Iroquois Confederacy. Prior to that war, the Iroquois’ bond was never challenged and so this divide caused a situation comparable to the brother versus brother stories told concerning the Civil War era. Along with their Mohican neighbors of the Hudson River Valley, the Oneidas raised arms in support of the fledgling republic and won. Yes sir, July 4th is a special time in Oneida indeed.

With a history as valiant and storied as any peoples of the world, the Oneidas displayed their signature Smoke Dance in competition. To those unfamiliar, it is a remnant of times when stories of war exploits in synchronized dance moves conveyed the message. The modern version has both men and women dancing in high-speed swirls of color and grace. This dance is not often seen in the Great Lakes region other than in demonstration and entertainment, and this event brought dancers from eastern United States and Canada. Witnessing them allowed me to check another item off my bucket list.

It was almost a perfect weekend for me. I say almost because although the grounds were well-maintained and helpful workers shuttle people to their automobiles, one thing tarnished the weekend. The thing that galled me was the rise of vendors embodying a “gangster” persona. I’m all for free expression, but when a vendor who referred to themselves as the HU$TLE TRIBE rudely turned away a parent with valid concerns, I can’t help but wonder if the lifestyle they were embracing flew in the face of traditions. In this reviewer’s opinion, rude behavior over money at an Indian function is not proper. Lucky for everyone, there were plenty of other vendors to support there.

All in all, it was another feather in the proud history of the Oneida Nation. If you haven’t gone in a few years, grab your lawn chair and attend next year’s event. Better yet, grab a friend or neighbor who has never attended and play tour guide for the day. You won’t be sorry.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.