Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Traditional Regalia Workshop Teaches Youth the Art

Story and photos by Richard D. Ackley, Jr.
Colorful regalia, resounding drumming and fancy footwork are part of the rich ceremonial artistry experienced at a contemporary Native American Pow Wow. Dancers bring excitement and the art of expression with their performances to audiences tied together with an innovative blend of modern and traditional Native American dance styles.
While ceremonial gatherings in Native American communities stretch back centuries, modern Pow Wows emerged from more recent ceremonies that began in the Great Plains in the 19th century. Pow Wow clothes, called regalia, are real works of art. They are very beautiful, and each one projects the creativity of its designer.
The art of creating traditional Woodland Indian dance regalia began taking shape last Friday and Saturday at the Mole Lake Recreation Center. Mole Lake Tribal Elder and mentor Colleen Poler shared her knowledge and expertise in creating dance regalia to a group of a dozen people.

Each participant began by choosing the fabrics and color schemes, including the multitude of colored ribbons, which will adorn the final outfit. Traditional elements of bead and floral designs continue to be incorporated into the dance regalia, and the workshop will support a greater ability for this art to be passed on to the new generations.

New materials and different techniques used to embellish the clothing are constantly evolving. Inter-tribal is not just one dance style; today, Pow Wows themselves are inter-tribal. While in many cases dancers follow their own Tribe and Nation’s regalia patterns, a growing number create their own unique designs. Creativity was encouraged at the workshop.

Before sewing occurs, the pieces of fabric are prewashed to avoiding shrinking when the outfit is finished and worn.

There are dances for men, like the grass dance, and traditional dances for women, like the jingle dress dance. Traditional jingle dancers still abide by the original colors and keep their dance in a similar sedate style as the original dance steps. Contemporary women’s jingle dresses may be any color the dancer selects. Bright colors are incorporated into contemporary dresses to make them more flashy. A typical men’s grass dance outfit consists of an apron or breech cloth, pants, moccasins with bells and lamb fur, shirt, matching choker, beaded cuffs, head roaches and headbands. According to the creation story, the grass dance steps imitate the stomping of the tall grasses as it was once done by the dancer’s ancestors. The fringes are meant to represent the grasses tied to their outfits in days gone by.

The men’s traditional dancers with the big eagle bustle on their back are known as the storytellers. They each tell their own version of hunting or gathering or perhaps tracking an animal. The traditional dances are basic with no spinning, and not everyone does it the same way.
Pow Wow clothes appear to be forever evolving. The Internet and social media have helped regalia making spread more rapidly through the sharing of designs and techniques. Outfits are seemingly getting a welcome makeover, perfecting the art itself. The explosion of colors, contemporary designs and innovative patterns all bring this artistry into light, especially during Pow Wows.

A big thank you to Colleen and Cassandra for bringing this special workshop to fruition and empowering and educating our people, both young and old. A chance to see several of the new regalia will be possible at the upcoming 2020 Spring T.R.A.I.L.S. Pow Wow next March at Crandon High School.