Crowd turns out for Park Rapids area’s first Day of the Dead celebration
The downtown Park Rapids event combined the announcement of an upcoming museum of Indigenous treaty and civil rights with a celebration of Latino culture and community healing.
PARK RAPIDS — All the food went, co-organizer Alondra Cano said the morning after downtown Park Rapids’ first-ever Day of the Dead celebration on Tuesday.
Festivities included traditional Mexican foods and drinks served by Vallartas Mexican Grill while, across the street, a colorful ofrenda (altar) to bygone loved ones was the focus on the grounds of the former Carnegie Library, recently purchased by the Akiing organization to become the Giiwedinong Treaty Rights and Cultural Museum.
A DJ played at first Mexican traditional music before switching to American party standards. Corey Medina and Brothers performed live later in the evening.
Local resident Jeremy Simonson placed some photos of his dearly departed on the ofrenda.
“My mother passed away three weeks ago, so I started with that,” he said. “Then, my father passed away a few years back, so I put him down. And then an uncle passed, and then our aunt passed last year as well.”
Pat Dove said she and her husband, Paul, traveled to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca about four years ago to experience the Days of the Dead.
“That had been on his bucket list,” she said. “We went there and spent a week with a family in their home and saw all of the celebrations. So, we’re glad this is happening here.”
Children also enjoyed pony rides and short trips in a mule-drawn cart, as well as opportunities to add to the colorful sidewalk chalk art and play with traditional Mexican toys. The Giiwedinong lawn, the horses and the human participants were decorated with whimsical skeletons, marigold garlands, votive candles, Catrines (elegant skull) masks and face painting, and murals filled in with colored sand, beans and grain.
“We’re very happy to sponsor the first Day of the Dead ceremony here in Park Rapids,” said Winona LaDuke with Honor the Earth, an environmental justice organization. “We hope it marks the beginning of a beautiful future for all of us.”
Dotted around the property were signs saying “Skovoteden,” which LaDuke explained as north country lingo for “Let’s go vote, then.” Visitors who plan to vote in next Tuesday’s election were offered free hats and sweatshirts with slogans like “Every vote matters.”
After bringing the crowd together to dance the macarena, LaDuke welcomed them to the event, calling it “a multicultural new emergence here in Park Rapids.”
“All kinds of cool people live here,” she said. “Let’s celebrate it. Let’s be that.”
LaDuke recalled spending a lot of her childhood at a Carnegie Library, “a place where a kid from a small town could go and read all kinds of books and see interesting people and see the world, and that’s what it was intended for.”
She added that during the last couple of years, the building belonged to the Enbridge Corporation. “We didn’t like what they did to us,” she said. “We didn’t like what they did to our territory. So, every Tuesday we would come out and stand on this corner with our little signs that said "Water is life."
“We intend to continue that tradition. We’re going to turn this into a museum of culture and treaty rights. We’re going to welcome you all to come and see this part of the great territory and be part of us, and build a new community here.”
Noting that fall is a time of transition, LaDuke added, “We are honoring those who have passed on, and the grief and the sorrow we have had. We are recognizing that, and we are going to be part of a healing and making something which is new.”
Orin Wolfe, a boy who LaDuke said participated in all of the water protector rallies, took the microphone from her and led the crowd in a cheer of “Black snake killers!” and “Protect the water!” The cry is a reference to an Indigenous prophecy of a time when Indigenous people will join together to fight a force of destruction.
Co-sponsor Sergio Barajas, owner of Vallartas Mexican Grill and La Rancherita Market, gave some remarks in Spanish, translated by event co-organizer Alondra Cano.
“Thank you so much for joining Winona and me in this new partnership to help make the community a better place for Latinos,” he said, noting that he’s been in business for 11 years in Park Rapids. “We’re so thankful to the Park Rapids community for making it a place for me and my family, my kids, to have an opportunity.
“We’re really excited for making this event an annual event, and having you back next year with some live music — maybe some mariachis, maybe some banda – so we really want you to come and stick with me and Winona. We’re going to keep doing this.”
A third speaker, Kari Tomperi, invited anyone living within the Shell River watershed to sign up with the Shell River Alliance.
“We are hoping to ramp up, talk to everybody about the ecosystem they’re living in,” she said, “help them learn and understand water and soil and the animals and the environment, the ecosystem that we all live in and how to take care of it better.”