John Bobolink, a Native American from the Leech Lake Indian Reservation who emceed the first Two Rivers Powwow on May 18 in Elk River, said he hopes the event was the first of many.
“I thought it was a great,” he said. “The turnout was much better than I expected.”
It’s estimated that more than 1,000 people attended the event that was supposed to be held outdoors in the Handke Pit, a sunken bowl-shaped stadium located next to Elk River’s original high school on Main Street. Wind and rain, however, pushed the powwow, Indian games and vendors indoors.
That did not prevent the collaborative effort between the Anoka-Hennepin, Elk River, Princeton-Milaca, St. Michael-Albertville and St. Francis Indian Education programs from showcasing a traditional Native American powwow.
Mindy Meyers, one of six Indian Education advisers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District and co-chair of the event, said their committee was blown away by the attendance.
The organizers do plan to host another powwow, hopefully in the Handke Pit, but they realize in the event of poor weather they need a bigger venue.
Meyers called the event turnout “amazing,” noting it was the first time any of the participating districts were involved in hosting a powwow.
Bobolink said having powwows in communities like Elk River is good for both Native American students and the general public.
“It gives the students a sense of ownership,” Bobolink said. “It makes a positive impact when a school recognizes their culture.”
And for the general public that may not always have this type of opportunity to attend and take part in a powwow, it’s a chance to see Native Americans in a positive light, he said.
“For generations, the social aspect (of Native Americans) has not been represented accurately,” Bobolink said. “This is something I am proud to be part of (to correct that).”
Decades ago powwows could not happen. They were considered illegal, Bobolink said at the event. He said it was not until 1978 – when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed – that powwows were allowed to take place again.
“I find it ironic schools were teaching that America was founded on the freedom of religion, but not for Native America until 1978,” he said. “People started to realize that that law and the treatment of American Indians had to change.”
Bobolink said in the simplest and most traditional forms, powwows are a chance to come together and celebrate life.
“We enjoy a celebration and simple pleasures in life such as singing, dancing and coming together with friends and meeting new friends in our schools and communities,” he said.