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Powwow Celebrates the Native Culture Thriving in Cook County

a Native American dancer at Busse Woods

Before you are close enough to see the dancing or smell the food, you hear the drum. At every powwow, the steady beat of the drum creates the “Heartbeat of Mother Earth” for dancers and visitors alike. This year’s 61st Annual Chicago Powwow, held September 13 and 14 at Busse Woods, will be no different.

The American Indian Center (AIC) holds powwows from spring to fall each year, but their Annual Chicago Powwow is their largest, celebrating more than 150 tribes from across the U.S. and Canada. The event, which drew over 10,000 people last year, features dance exhibitions and competitions, an arts and crafts marketplace and one of your only chances to sample Native American food in Illinois.

“The American Indian Center serves as the reservation for the many tribes of people who come here to learn about Native culture and tradition. The Annual Powwow is just the biggest celebration. It shows that you don’t have to go to a reservation, there are Native people practicing the culture here in the city,” said Cyndee Fox-Starr, the AIC’s special events coordinator.

The celebration of Native culture is exemplified in the pageantry of the Grand Entry, a colorful procession of dancers of all ages dressed in Native regalia, organized according to dance style. “It’s an inspiring experience to see your culture alive. Hearing the drums, feeling the drums. It’s overwhelming in terms of spirit and pride,” said Andrew Johnson, executive director for the AIC.

Another highlight is the dance. The competitions and exhibitions feature both traditional and cultural dance, performed by professional powwow participants and community members who use the event as a way to stay connected to their culture. “Some of the dancers are lawyers and doctors, to see them still putting on their regalia and dancing and singing shows that our cultural beliefs help keep us grounded,” said Fox-Starr.

But the Chicago Powwow is also full of opportunities for visitors. Everyone is welcome to come to learn about, and share in, the traditions and culture. Just follow the sound of the drum.