Honor the Earth sponsored a traditional spring powwow for the second year in a row Saturday at Pine Point School under the theme "Water Is Life."

"It's to welcome spring here," explained Winona LaDuke, executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth. The non-profit organization is based on the White Earth reservation and advocates for environmental causes, such as opposing the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline.

"We've been waiting for spring for a long time," LaDuke said. "It's been a brutal winter for a lot of people. We're also dancing for our water. We brought in water from Big Bear Spring, on the north side of our reservation, one of our premium sources of water, which also is impacted by the proposed pipeline."

Noting that the water in Pine Point village isn't very good, LaDuke said, "We brought in all-traditional water, and the foods that are served here, we grew them. So, we wanted to really be genuinely grateful that we have this new season, and for our water."

Becky Howard of the White Earth Band said the powwow "means healing, because of a couple of tragedies in our community. This is the best time for it - the spring equinox - also a time for healing."

Among those tragedies were the March 18 deaths of Emma LaRoque and her two children in an apparent murder-suicide, and the March 17 death of White Earth Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts following a long illness.

White Earth Band member Mike Fairbanks, added that the spring powwow is an opportunity to "thank the Creator for everything he has given us - from the maple sugar to seasonal changes."

Colors and bells

The powwow opened with grand entry processions at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. with a color guard led by Everett Goodwin of the White Earth Veterans Association. Goodwin carried the group's Eagle Staff and placed it alongside the U.S. flag.

The program also included a dinner, hand drum contest, moccasin games and vendor booths.

At least five groups of drum singers traveled to take part in the event, and participants traveled from Ojibwe bands and other indigenous nations as far away as Tama, Iowa to dance in traditional regalia.

Their singing, dancing and drumming filled the Pine Point School gymnasium with music that, at times, built up to overwhelming volume.

"I've been dancing jingle for going on 10 years now," said Nina Berglund, who lives in the Twin Cities and works for Honor the Earth. She explained the traditional dresses she and other women and girls wore at the powwow, adorned with raindrop-shaped jingle bells.

"The jingle dress is a healing dress," she said. "It came to the people in a time of need. There's a long story about its creation, but essentially, it came to an old man in a dream to help heal his sick granddaughter. When we wear the jingle dress when we dance, essentially we're dancing for the people. We're dancing for the healing, for the goodness, and just to help ourselves and our community."

Shining spirits

Jerry Young Bear of Iowa's Meskwaki Nation also explained his elaborate regalia, incorporating tribal and clan colors. A design on the apron around his waist came from an uncle who was a world champion fancy dancer in the 1940s.

"Jessup Lasley was his name," said Young Bear. "His son, Gordon Lasley, was also a champion fancy dancer. He was well-known in the community for being a terrific dancer. He was my idol when I was younger, because I wanted to dance like him."

Not all the pieces of native regalia have a deep tradition behind them. For example, Young Bear noted that his roach-style headdress is a popular modern fashion. A colorful arrangement of porcupine hair, he said it takes thousands of hours to make.

Regarding his dance moves, Young Bear said he calls it spirit dancing because it expresses his soul. "I'm dancing for the Creator and for the old people who can't dance. I used to dance fancy, but I blew out my knee, so I had to slow down. I loved the spotlight when I was dancing." But now, he said, "I'm just here to let my spirit shine."

Noting that native country is going through hard times, he said, "This is my way to help people, just to let my spirit shine and let them see the beauty that can be. Don't be afraid to be yourself. That's what the Creator wants - he wants us to be who we are. When you meet an authentic person, who truly is happy with who they are, that's where you see the beauty."