By Susan Johnson
The Native Americans performed a number of dances at the 16th Annual “Honor the Mounds” celebration last Saturday, Aug. 13, at Beattie Park. But one they definitely did not do was a Rain Dance. Mother Nature provided the rain twice — one shower in the morning and another late in the afternoon. The tents for the speakers, singers and drummers were set up, and the vendors’ booths were in place. The Grand Entry with parade of colors went off without a hitch.
In between dances, MC Leonard Malatare (Salish, Flathead) filled in with bits of Native American lore and humor. He explained the Lakota words kola (friend ) and Le-la-wash-te (very good). “You cannot lie in that language,” he explained, “because it reflects on what your people taught you.”
Native flutes — artistry in wood
Bill Bergman, one of the visitors that day, was playing a wooden Native flute. I asked him how he happened to learn to play the instrument. Giving credit to his wife as the expert, he said: “We got involved with some people in the Rockford area — Mac and Juanita [MacVenn, founders of the Native American Awareness Committee, organizers of the event]. My wife got into a drum … my wife started messing around with flutes. She said, ‘You want to buy a flute.’ I said, ‘I can’t play a flute.’ One day, we bought a flute and said, ‘This is ours.’ I started playing around with it, and I liked it. I didn’t think I sounded too good. But my wife, she can play it beautifully.”
He showed it to me up close. The lovely, smooth, wooden instrument was signed by the maker, “Thunder Bear – E-1786,” meaning it would play in the key of E. “Thunder Bear” is Randy Starnes.
Bill’s wife, Carol, said, “Last year, we were coming back from the Spirit Circle.” A man there thought her husband was of Chippewa ancestry, something he saw in the eyes.
“I do a lot of woodworking myself,” Bill Bergman added, “and the finish on here is like satin. I think I’ve got the ability to duplicate it.” He pointed out the nearly invisible seam in the wood, showing the high quality of workmanship.
Gifts for the children
Leonard Malatare said they would do a dance for Wakan Ya Zhaj, the “Holy Ones,” the children. Native American parents like to give gifts to their children. Since it would soon be time for “Back to School,” he invited the children in the audience to come up to the speakers’ tent and get a prize. Kids old enough to go to school were given free backpacks of school supplies, while younger ones got a stuffed toy animal.
Earlier, I had asked Mac “Spotted Horse” MacVenn how many times he had participated in this event over the years. He replied: “The Native American Awareness Committee was formed 17 years ago, with the first ‘Honor the Mounds’ gathering 16 years ago. The committee was formed in one of the gathering pits in North Towne Mall before the inner mall was shut down. I’ve been with it since the beginning.”
I then asked him, “How many tribes have participated in these events?”
Thinking back, he said: “Over the years, over 35 nations were represented. This year, we have our Firekeeper (Dennis Dillard, Cherokee, Lakota, Eastern Delaware); MC Leonard Malatare (Salish, Flathead); Blackfoot; Kickapoo; Mescalero Apache; Sauk/Fox; Lakota; Cherokee, as well as others with the crafters and vendors involved.”
For this event, Rudy Valajo (Kickapoo) was the head male Eagle dancer, and Chris Woodcock (Cherokee) was the head female dancer. Spirit of the Rainbow (Cherokee) singers and Bennah Un Deanah “Sound of the Wind” (Anasazi) provided accompaniment with vocals and drums.
Importance of spirituality
Joseph “Standing Bear” Schranz of Midwest SOARRING spoke about the need to go back to our spiritual roots. He explained that people have different ideas of what is sacred. “They go to different churches,” he said. “I believe the Creator gives us spirituality, and that will save us. There are a lot of good churches and a lot of bad churches. The Bible says the churches will suffer severely for not following the true teachings. What I’m talking about today is what’s happening to all our people. We hear about the government — the Democrats and Republicans. What is sacred and what is happening to our people…
“I am concerned about what the government is doing to our people and the struggle between technology and spirituality,” Shranz added. “Our young people are looking for technology to be their salvation — cell phones, iPads, etc. I believe in the end that will destroy what limited spirituality they have left. I am concerned about people our age — we have earned Social Security. Why aren’t people protesting what is going on with the government? You put money into your account, and you get your Social Security. Then, someone in Washington says they are going to penalize you for it. I believe we are in for a real bad time of it.
“The soldiers — these veterans who defended us didn’t do that to be a socialist country,” Shranz said. “We have to stand up as a people. I have been an activist for 41 years of my life. The three worst things are ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda.’ All of us have the power to write letters, make phone calls, and speak out. We all have the power to turn this country around. The manufacturing has been taken away…
“In the old days, the enemy was a long way away, but now with these missiles coming our way, we don’t have years to build up an infrastructure,” Shranz said. “We have to start protesting. I’m concerned for each and everyone of you and your children and grandchildren. What will they have? They will not have any Social Security, just tremendous debt. As parents, we need to safeguard them. I am always amazed that men go overseas and put on a uniform, but if they steal your money at home, nobody does anything,” Shranz said.
“I believe the people have the power. I don’t know what happened to us. We need to do something to stand up as a people and make a change happen now. These people promise budget cuts, but they keep spending and spending — our future, our Medicare, things we earned. One of the things that does concern us — everybody worries about survival, and the spiritual goes [away]…
“Our salvation is simple: prayer,” Shranz said. “Every day I give thanks. The way we are treating the earth — we need to take care of what we have left. With my foundation, the last 20 years, it has saved 1,900 acres, sacred sites, trees, water [areas]. In Western Springs, I got the people all riled up to buy a $12 million bond to save a valuable park. But what happened? All the park district thought was that they could use the money for something else. I heard just recently, we will get $3 million out of the $12 million. That’s pitiful … I urge you to stay strong on who you are and get more involved in your spiritual [life]. Push away that technology while you still can.
“When I was a kid, and we had a snowstorm, you went outside to see footprints in the snow, kids making a snow fort, things like that,” Shranz said. “Now you don’t see any footprints in the snow because the kids are inside with the TV and other electronics. The bigger picture is what we’re not seeing — how do we change that? We need to be determined to make a change. If we don’t make it, no one will, and in another 20 years the USA will be gone. I don’t want to see that happen. I cherish this land. Today, it is still worth something … I urge you to share. If you grow vegetables and can your food, do so now. Learn to save yourself before it is too late.”
As the storm front moved in again, a few drops of rain were beginning to fall. The colors were retired early, and a couple of intertribal dances closed the event for this year.
From the Aug. 17-23, 2011, issue