Students Demonstrate Powwow Dances at American Island Days
Hot sun and hotrods were the recipe for this year’s American Island Days in Chamberlain, S.D, on August 20. 2022. Adding some flair and beauty to the afternoon, eleven St. Joseph’s Indian School dancers and eight drummers enjoyed displaying the powwow dance styles of their cultural heritage to festival-goers. The school’s drum group, Pahá Makȟásaŋ Lowáŋpi (the Chalk Hills Singers), provided the heartbeat of the people at the event.
Asked to participate in the festival for the second time this year, the students freely shared their enthusiasm about the day. Marybella Archambeau said, “I felt very happy that people were enjoying our culture. I had a lot of fun, and it made my heart happy”
Christine Patterson said dancing for American Island days made her feel like she belonged. Blaze LaRoche added that dancing for a crowd made him dance harder and that sitting at the drum again “brings me into a cool place.” Charges Black Lance, also a drummer, said, “In all, I feel proud to be at the drum.”
Other dancers included Amelia LaPointe, Emilia Provancial, Consuelo Summers, Brayden Thunder Shield, Gunner Big Crow, Romeo Roubideaux, Clarysia Cook and Sherrilynn Wise Spirit. Other drummers were Kenyon McCloskey, Oyate Black Lance, Hehaka Black Lance, Paul Luedke, Mario Bernie, Kaiden Whiting and Walter Kills Crow.
Native American Studies Lead LaRayne Woster said, “Sharing a part of our powwow celebration with the community is something the students are always excited, yet nervous, to do. It feels good to share part of our mission with the community. It was especially nice to have the drum with us this year. The drum brings completeness to the dance performance because it is the heartbeat of the nation.”
Locals know much of the story of the half-mile-wide by two-mile-long American Island that was completely submerged in 1953 with the completion of Fort Randall Dam. Before that, it enjoyed renown as a popular camping spot for Boy and Girl Scouts and as a tourist destination. There was a pool, a bandshell and WPA sculptures, some of which still stand after relocation to Chamberlain’s Main Street.
What many may not know is that Brulé Lakota Leader Čhaŋté Wicuwa, also known as Useful Heart, lived on the island until 1889, when Congress divided the Great Sioux Reservation into smaller separate reservations. For centuries before that, Native Americans had enjoyed the island. To join the celebration of the island and remember its deep cultural roots was an experience that St. Joseph’s Indian School students treasure.
If you missed the dancing or would like to enjoy more, attend the school’s first public powwow since going virtual in 2019. The 46th annual wačhípi (powwow) is Saturday, September 17, with Grand Entry beginning at noon. It is free and open to the public with handicap accessibility. For more information and a complete event schedule, please contact St. Joseph’s Indian School at 605-234-3313 or visit stjo.org/powwow. If you cannot attend in-person, follow postings and live updates virtually with St. Joseph’s Indian School on Facebook at www.stjo.org/facebook.