smoke curled into the sky and the sound of people's cheerful voices
filled the cold winter air behind the Tribal Office Building in
Black River Falls.
About 300 people attended the Winter Camp 2017, held on Saturday,
Jan. 28. Half of those in attendance were children, and all came
to enjoy the festivities.
The cultural event was the creation of Heritage Preservation
Executive Director Jon Greendeer.
"Winter Camp 2017 was an attempt to showcase a few small but
intriguing parts of a vast way of life many of us don't get to see
or experience in today's times," Greendeer said. "Although we have
lost much, dwelling on our losses is not the key to the survival
of Ho-Chunk way of life. Celebrating and passing down what we have,
The effort was a pilot program to see if the event was a good
way to open doors to many people, especially the people who may
not have access or who may not have felt particularly welcomed into
this realm, Greendeer said.
Three tents utilized were from the Ho-Chunk Camp set up at the
Oceti Sakowin site in Cannonball, North Dakota during the NoDAPL
gathering of Water Protectors.
"Our communities hold men, women, elders, children, native,
non-native, educated, experienced, from many walks of life. We want
everyone a part of it even though we know some stations may be geared
more specifically for a different group," Greendeer said. "For this
reason, planning was careful to make sure there was a little something
for everyone. We all live together and our practices have relied
heavily on communal living and responsibilities."
Tent One allowed visitors to witness the metamorphosis from
black ash log to basket or naa paa. Henning Garvin got the point
across by explaining the conditions where black ash grows, how it
is selected, and the work it takes to get it out of the woods. Greg
Blick provided information about the invasion of the Emerald Ash
Borer and the effects on black ash trees, which are used for making
baskets in Ho-Chunk culture.
"People want to learn to make baskets and think they're going
to have all this material ready to start weaving baskets. It doesn't
work like that," Garvin said.
As he demonstrated pounding the logs to lift the straps from
the growth rings, Josie Lee and Henning's wife, Kjetil, highlighted
the next phase of sorting and separating the materials so it can
be used for weaving or ribboning. Guests found this process extremely
exacting and ultimately learning that there is a lot of work before
the work actually begins.
"In the end, a fantastic element of beauty is created and now
that folks know what's behind it, there is more value attributed
to that fine art," Greendeer said.
Tent Two took participants through all the steps needed to go
from fresh off the deer hide to moccasins and other buckskin materials.
Levi and Verna Blackdeer joined Roger and Junior Littlegeorge to
show people how they scrape the flesh and hair off the hide to remove
any fat and membrane that would prevent the brain solution from
soaking into the hide.
Verna explained that pork brain is typically used in a cooked
broth and worked into a scraped hide. Once done, it is thoroughly
wrung and stretched on a rack. The hide may need to be scraped several
times and worked into the material for hours. There is never a guarantee
the final product will be soft or usable. If not, you start all
over, she said.
Elena Greendeer, a master leatherworker, told visitors what
she looks for when buying a hide, knowing that not all hides are
the same or can fill the project she is working on. The size, softness,
evenness of the coloring from smoking the hide, and holes and blemishes
all play factors on whether a hide will sell for $350 or $1,000.
Tent Three brought visitors a little closer to the finer and
more intricate arts of the Ho-Chunk people. Both Rita Kingswan and
Kirsten Day showed visitors the work and patience behind detailed
finger weaving for yarn belts and paxges, which is a traditional
hairpiece worn by Ho-Chunk women.
"Both artists are so incredibly talented and knowledgeable,
beyond these two art forms, and were able to expound on a variety
of other topics," Greendeer said.
On display outside the camp were a variety of wooden bowls and
spoons guests were welcome to closely examine.
Later, Randall "Naatisak" Blackdeer Jr. broke out his traditional
lacrosse and double ball stick crafting operation. He demonstrated
every phase of the operation from the original shagbark hickory
log down to a detailed and intricate element of what is referred
to as "The Creator's Game." Naatisak believes he may be the only
crafter of these sticks in this nation of over 7,600 members. Certainly,
a great addition to feature at the camp.
The "Big Top" tent housed some of the members of the Little
Thunder singers who opened the drum to any male singer who wished
to join and sing for their first time, Greendeer said. As well,
the members were taught about the songs they sung and some of the
"rules" singers and drum keepers must be mindful of before the first
song is sung.
The centerpiece of the grounds was a bonfire a place
to warm up or engage in conversation.
"We thought we had enough s'mores supplies to last the day.
We thought wrong," he said.
One of the most popular sites was facilitated by James Blackdeer.
Challengers stepped up to play some Snow Snake, firing a carved
stick down a trench made in a 300 foot channel of snow. They had
a championship round and gave prizes for the longest distance.
The ciiporoke was used to house games from Paula Cleveland and Rita
Kingswan who demonstrated some kaasu and pinaga. Later on, Larry
Walker brought on the very competitive moccasin game where players
were either hiding or looking for a shell under four covers or moccasins,
while a singer continued on a hand drum until the seeker chose the
correct hiding place.
George "Heezazuc" Garvin along with his nephew, Greg Blackdeer,
made sure the traditional style soups were done to perfection. Over
130 pounds of beef, chicken, pork, and venison were served, with
visitors evaluating how the food tastes based on how it is prepared,
Greendeer said. As well, corn was prepared the same way and sweetened
for a desert.
To compliment this meal, Margaret "Muggs" Garvin, Fawn Smith,
and Rio Elise Greendeer fired up the stoves at the American Legion
Post 129 Building and made several batches of frybread.
"The cafeteria at the Tribal Office Building offered the perfect
atmosphere for masters like Myra Jo Price and Eliza Green who can
turn yards of fabric star quilts, ribbon shirts, dresses, applique
designs, and the list goes on," Greendeer said. "They said they
could have used several more instructors because there's so much
to teach but there's no doubt, their onlookers know how to begin
their projects and where to look for guidance."
Every site was furnished with cards that related to the specific
activity by the Language Division staff. These cards held several
related words and phrases so that when someone decided to begin
their activity, they could do so in the Ho-Chunk language. Even
though staff was on site to assist in the pronunciation of these
words and phrases, they remain "on call" to assist anyone anytime
to promote the everyday use of the language.
Finally, the closing feature was held in the ciiporoke with
Waika, or winter stories, by Elliott Garvin and Maxine Kohner. Nearly
80 people huddled together in the dwelling to hear about how the
fox got the white tip on his tail, the battle between the Thunders
and the Water Spirits at what is now called Devil's Lake, and how
the yellow tassels of the corn was all that was left from a young
non-native girl who disappeared.
Volunteers made the event a lot easier to conduct, especially
when considering the number of stations provided and the resources
"We barely had to ask for help. The concept alone was absolutely
magnetic," Greendeer said.
"I can't tell you where or what help was most appreciated but
the Ho-Chunk Nation DNR and Maintenance Crew deserve a great portion
of the applause," he said. "Members of the Office of the President
and the Legislature also were present to help. It reminded me of
something I heard - that it's better to get a little from many than
a lot from a few."
Given the positive response from this first camp, organizers
are enthused about setting up Spring Camp 2017.
"But before we can let our enthusiasm drive us, we'll have to
sit down with the players and planners and map out the logistics,"
Greendeer said. "We've also discussed smaller, perhaps singular
camps to go with the timing of when the sap is running, or the corn
is ready. As well, maybe hosting extended camps for some of the
arts you can't simply teach in a day or two."
Greendeer is humbled by the compliments given to him because
of the effort given to Winter Camp 2017. But he equally feels appreciative
to the many people who made it possible.
"Thank you all for coming. Thank you Ho-Chunk Nation and mostly,
the Ho-Chunk community for making this a reality." he said.