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Dancers a hit at Pow Wow

justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Jon Gieneart of Evansville, Ind., participated in this year's Pow Wow in Pipestone after experiencing the event last year as a spectator while visiting his grandparents.

PIPESTONE - Representing a variety of tribes, they came from as far away as Hawaii and as close as down the block. They included Cherokee, Dakota, Ojibwa, Cheyenne and Choctaw, and all were there to celebrate their heritage.

And to dance.

The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers hosted their annual Pow Wow over the past week, with a majority of the festivities happening over the weekend. According to Keepers President Bud Johnston, potential heat kept the number of dancers down this year, but on Saturday a cooling breeze kept everyone comfortable - dancers and spectators alike.

Jon Gieneart, a teenager from Evansville, Ind., was in the area visiting his grandparents. He had come to Pow Wow in Pipestone last year as a spectator, which prompted him to return this year as a dancer.

"It just looked like fun - like something I wanted to do," Gieneart said. "When I heard we were going to be here during a pow wow, I asked if I could join in."

He has been dancing less than a year, but entered the circle during the first grand march with enthusiasm. While his first steps were tentative, it didn't take long for his exuberance to kick in and shine through. Gieneart, who is part Lakota on his mother's side, stepped, stomped, whirled and twirled into the hearts of spectators.

Johnston said Gieneart had called to ask if he could join the Pow Wow dancers, which Johnston immediately approved.

"All are welcome," he said, then laughed. "Then his dad called to make sure he had called."

When Gieneart arrived, Johnston said, he "presented me a pinch of tobacco, which is a traditional gift."

According to Johnston, more and more people are embracing their Native American heritage. Years ago, he said, many wouldn't admit to their Native American blood.

"My own father was a product of Indian School. None of my brothers wanted to be tribal," he explained. "They all asked me what I was doing and why I wanted to be involved in this."

But involved he is. Johnston, when not running around with organizational chores, joined the dancers in the circle often.

The grand march on Saturday afternoon started with a traditional Native American prayer, then a welcoming song.

Several U.S. veterans walked the circle proudly bearing an American flag and flags from the VFW. The dancers who followed wore a variety of tribal clothing.

One was old enough to dance the circle with the aid of a walker, another was young enough to be carried by his mother. Every age range in between was represented.

During one dance, all veterans in the audience were asked to step forward while the dancers performed a dance of thanks. The first few vets stepped up hesitantly, but were quickly joined by others and were soon surrounded by dancers, all of whom stopped to shake each and every vet's hand at the conclusion of the song.

When a dance was announced for everyone, audience members joined in enthusiastically - families, adults and children - stepping around the circle with varying amounts of energy, but a happy smile on each face.

This year, Head Woman Dancer was Johnston's wife, Rona. Head Man Dancer was David Bavette, from Honolulu, Hawaii.

The dancing continued with a second grand march at 5 p.m. and a third on Sunday at 1 p.m. Pow Wow also included vendors selling Native American jewelry, clothing, food and more.