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Indian Summer's Silver Anniversary

Festival marks 25 years at Milwaukee's lakefront

Sep. 7, 2011
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As an advocate for American-Indian civil rights, Butch Roberts, a member of the Oneida Tribe, participated in a number of civil disturbances throughout the 1970s and '80s to draw attention to the challenges facing Native communities. It was then that he recognized that many of the difficulties and misunderstandings between American Indians and other populations were a result of misconceptions and stereotypes. As a Milwaukee police officer, Roberts worked at the many ethnic festivals held at Henry Maier Festival Park, and in 1985, inspired by those successes, he conceptualized a festival that would celebrate the diversity of indigenous peoples and help to bridge the cultural divide.

With the assistance of the DeNomie and Warren families, the dedication of the 11 tribes of Wisconsin and countless volunteers, Indian Summer debuted in 1987. And as the festival transitions into its 25th year, the mission to increase understanding remains intact. Nowhere is this more evident than on Education Day, when Indian Summer allows students and teachers to explore its attractions prior to Friday's opening ceremony.

The educational and enrichment activities presented at Education Day continue throughout the rest of the festival. At the Indian Summer Tribal Villages, families can experience the diversity of the Ojibwe, Oneida and northern woodland tribes of Stockbridge-Munsee and Menominee by visiting the longhouse and wigwams and interacting with storytellers and artists. East Meets West utilizes re-enactments to compare and contrast Eastern and Western American-Indian tribes. The performance group's encampment will be stationed near the Native Circle Stage on the south end of the grounds.

Indian Summer also aims to present the best of American-Indian music and art. On Saturday night, visitors can attend the Indian Summer Music Awards (ISMA), a ceremony celebrating contemporary and traditional American-Indian artists. Nominees will perform throughout the three-day festival, as will other nationally and internationally recognized musicians, including aboriginal rock band Eagle & Hawk and Grammy Award-winning Iroquois singer/songwriter Joanne Shenandoah.

Shenandoah, who will appear both Friday and Saturday on the Miller Stage, produces a line of herbal teas that will be available for sale at the Tribal Farmers' Market. A new addition to this year's festival, the Tribal Farmers' Market provides an opportunity to members of the Native community to sell goods without having to pay the vendor fee, says Siobhan Marks, Indian Summer marketing director. Separate from the artwork- and craft-focused Indian Summer Marketplace, the farmers' market will feature coffees, teas and dried herbs, among other locally and regionally grown and produced products.

Though marketplaces always draw a crowd, the most popular attraction likely will remain the Contest Pow Wow, which showcases dancers, singers and drummers from across the United States and Canada. The grand entries are not competitive, Marks says, and always begin with the entrance of veterans, followed by pow-wow royalty, head dancers and special guests, the presentation of dancers by category, special prayers and honor songs.

A similar level of pageantry and showmanship can be expected on Friday during the 25th anniversary opening spectacular, featuring a fireworks display and torch-lit canoe procession. Described as a “re-enactment of voyagers traveling to the new world,” Marks says the procession offers “a rather beautiful and poignant perspective.” Because the final day of the festival falls on Sept. 11, a 9/11 Honor Parade will provide moments of reflection and remembrance.

Indian Summer runs Sept. 9-11. For more information, visit www.indiansummer.org.

Emily Patti writes about food and culture for the Shepherd Express.


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