2015-05-07 / Life in Leelanau

First Pow Wow at Suttons Bay makes Grand Entry

Al Willman Of The Enterprise staff


AS PART of her senior project at Suttons Bay High School, Beedoskah Stonefish is organizing a Pow Wow, honoring the graduating seniors at the school. AS PART of her senior project at Suttons Bay High School, Beedoskah Stonefish is organizing a Pow Wow, honoring the graduating seniors at the school. For four years, Suttons Bay High School has been the host of a one-day celebration honoring Native American graduates from the community.

This year, the celebration is getting bigger.

Beedoskah Stonefish, 17, is graduating as a member of the National Honor Society and is an award-winning Hoop dancer. As part of her senior project at the high school, she is organizing a twoday Pow Wow for Saturday and Sunday. The event will celebrate not only the graduation of the six Native students, but the entire graduating class at Suttons Bay High School which is estimated at 43.

“Our school is really diverse, and a lot of the other schools don’t have that,” she said. “It’s a different kind of celebration that helps break down barriers for culture.”

The Pow Wow will be held on the football field at the high school, and will feature three Grand Entries — dances unique to the student performing them. In addition, there will be Native crafts and food for sale.

The event is being put on by the Suttons Bay Graduation Pow Wow Committee — of which Stonefish’s father, Walker, is a part.

There are two different kinds of Pow Wows — competitive and non-competitive, or traditional. The traditional Pow Wow planned at Suttons Bay, Walker Stonefish said, will cost $30,000 to put on. Competitive Pow Wows cost up to $200,000.

Walker Stonefish said there are Native people planning to come from across the United States and Canada.

“I don’t think people realize what a big event it’s going to be,” he said. “People are coming from everywhere. My daughters (Beedoskah and Suttons Bay junior Waskwane Stonefish) have represented the (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians) across the country. They are championship Pow Wow dancers.”

Suttons Bay High School teacher Isadore Toulouse came to Suttons Bay five years ago after teaching in Toronto. He currently teaches Native Language at the school. He started the tradition of holding Native graduation ceremonies at Suttons Bay as soon as he arrived

“I used to do one in Toronto and we did one there for many years,” Toulouse said. “When I came here, I wanted to start the program here.”

He said parents and community members were involved with the previous ceremonies.

Toulouse said this year will be different, largely because of the involvement of the Stonefish family with Beedoskah Stonefish graduating and her sister Waskwane expected to graduate next year.

“I’m glad this year that Mr. Stonefish and his family stepped in to work on the bigger logistics of having the competition Pow Wow,” Toulouse said.

Three Grand Entires are scheduled during the event. Grand Entries represent the unity of Native Americans as one, as opposed to identifying as different tribes.

The first two Grand Entries are scheduled for Saturday at noon and 7 p.m., respectively. The third will be Sunday at noon.

There are also individual contests scheduled during the Pow Wow. A singing contest with a $3,000 grand prize and other cash prizes offered for second through fifth places will be held. There will also be an open drum contest, for which all drums are welcome.

Beedoskah said the student body was excited.

“It’s something they look forward to every year,” she said.

Beedoskah said celebrating the accomplishments of seniors — especially the three Native students who are going off to college — is important.

“There’s only a 69 percent graduation rate for Native Americans in the United States, so I think that’s a pretty big deal,” she said.

Besides Beedoskah, who plans to study optometry at Michigan State University, fellow seniors Veronica Anderson (Oakland University) and Adam Arroyo (Northern Michigan University) will be attending four-year schools.

“I think it brings something new and fresh to the community,” Arroyo said, of the Pow Wow.

Beedoskah said graduates are planning impor- tant things beyond going to college.

“This year, we have a really good group of seniors,” she said. “They’re going off to do big things. We have some people traveling in Central America to experience those different cultures. They’re getting a lot of different experiences outside of Northern Michigan. I think that’s really cool.”

Toulouse is proud of the growth of the program.

“It is an overwhelming experience, actually,” he said. “Especially to have it flourish to this level now. I’m hoping it’s something that’ll continue and have other parents continue to take on responsibility in organizing something of this magnitude. It is a big task.”

Toulouse said that in addition to seeing the program continue to grow and thrive, he wants to see it foster a larger cultural understanding in the community.

“My ultimate goal is to have people understand that this is our way of life,” he said. “This is our culture. This is who we are. Showing our pride, showing our uniqueness.”

If you plan to attend the Pow Wow

If you go to the first Suttons Bay graduation Pow Wow:

• Plan to visit one of the three Grand Entries. They are scheduled at noon and 7 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.

• Two other events will draw much interest. They are a singing contest offering a $3,000 grand prize and an open drum contest. Musicians will be performing all weekend.

• Native food and crafts will be available for purchase.

For more information on the Pow Wow, contact Walker Stonefish at (231) 866-1458.

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