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Promoting Native American Culture

Off the Cuff with Indian Summer Director Judy Dordel

Aug. 29, 2017
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Celebrating 31 years on Milwaukee’s lakefront, Indian Summer festival returns to Henry Maier Festival Park Sept. 8-10 to educate, entertain and promote Native American culture. In anticipation of this year’s festivities, Off the Cuff spoke with Indian Summer Executive Director Judy Dordel about the festival’s longevity, the legacy of “Language is Culture” and the importance of Education Day. 


What is the secret to Indian Summer’s longevity?

I think it’s because people call Indian Summer the best-kept secret, but we would like for it not to be a secret after 30 years. People come and they find it to be very relaxing and family friendly. It’s a place where they can just get away from it all and enjoy our culture. Our festival is also the only one that prohibits alcohol consumption on half of the grounds.

Can you tell me about this year’s theme, “Language is Culture”?

We are trying to highlight the various languages of Native American tribes, including the 11 tribes of Wisconsin. We’ll be using signage to include a native word for different activities that are going on and there will be prayers spoken in native language. An example of that would be the Yellow Bird Dancers, which is an internationally known champion hoop dance group who speak in the Apache language. The languages will be interspersed throughout the programming and people will be explaining what they’re saying. 

What would you recommend a first-time Indian Summer visitor do or see at the festival?

First and foremost is the competition powwow. It is on the north end of the grounds on the Great Lakes, Great Nations powwow area. There are drummers and singers and different dance competitions as well as a smoke dance competition, which is an Iroquois tradition and has a special drum. And the grand entry of the powwow is when it kicks off. On Friday night, the grand entry is at 7 p.m., and on Saturday it’s at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and then on Sunday it’s at 1 p.m. A grand entry is a procession of all of the dancers, entering the grounds from the east by category of dancer that are preceded by veteran honor guards carrying their eagle staffs from their tribes … We also have lacrosse demonstrations. The food is, of course, wonderful and there will be amateur boxing competitions, which is a big event on reservations. Many tribes have boxing clubs. Kids come from all over the country to compete … There’s also a really popular genealogy tent. It will be our fourth year having this genealogy group. It’s an opportunity to really search for ancestry. 

How did Education Day begin and what can visitors expect this year? 

The Education Day is on Friday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and it’s for area classrooms and you have to register separately to attend that day. Homeschoolers and area classrooms are welcome to attend. The fee is $6 per person and that fee applies to the student, the teachers and the chaperone and the parents. We do education day because our mission is to educate, but also because of Wisconsin Act 31 that requires teaching native history in schools. Right now, the requirement is for 7th grade, but there is an effort underway to make sure this is continued through all grades.

To learn more about Indian Summer or to view a complete schedule visit indiansummer.org.


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