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Twelve-year-old Max Sevier, Pierre, dances Saturday during the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe's annual pow wow at Fort Thompson. The pow wow lasted Aug. 16-18, and marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of Fort Thompson. (Candy DenOuden/Daily Republic)

Pow wow marks 150th anniversary of Fort Thompson

News Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Pow wow marks 150th anniversary of Fort Thompson
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

FORT THOMPSON -- The sound of drums will lead you in.

Amidst the carnival rides, outgoing and incoming vehicles, food vendors and tipis dotting the landscape, members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and other American Indian nations gathered at the center the pow wow arbor for a weekend of celebrations, honorings and remembrance during the Aug. 16-18 pow wow in Fort Thompson.

Event organizers estimated about 1,000 people attended on Saturday.

"It's bigger this year," said Clark Zephier, who is on the pow wow committee for the annual event.

The new pow wow arbor was completed a couple of weeks ago just in time for the event.

Early in the day Saturday, all the dancers gathered in the center of the pow wow area, a large circle with some stadium seating and a small area for the masters of ceremonies and event organizers.

As the music played, American Indians of all ages and from several states and tribes danced in their traditional regalia, bells tinkling and flashing in the sun. Many outfits boasted intricate beadwork, splashing brilliant color through the crowd.

People competed in dancing and singing over the weekend. Dancers could compete in several categories and age groups, from the very young to the elders.

Zephier said in addition to the dancers, there were 18 drums, with 10 to 12 singers at each drum.

One of the dancers, Edmond Nevaquaya, of Suttons Bay, Mich., said he followed the "pow wow trail" to Fort Thompson for the first time this year to dance. A member of the Comanche Nation, the 51-year-old said he has been dancing since he was very young, and was enjoying his time in South Dakota.

"I think it's a good pow wow," he said. "Good fellowship, good hospitality."

This year's pow wow marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of Fort Thompson, when what remained of the Dakota Sioux at Fort Snelling, Minn., were forced to relocate to the Crow Creek Reservation. According to the Crow Creek Tribe's website, that was in May of 1863.

"Our people were prisoners," said Zephier.

A brief timeline on the tribe's website outlines escalating tensions between the Sioux and the federal government, which turned bloody with the government failed to deliver, or delivered late, money promised to the Dakota. Their leader, Little Crow, agreed in August of 1862 with a war council to continue attacks meant to drive out the white settlers; warriors are believed to have killed between 1,200 to 1,800 people.

By September that year, most Dakota fighters had surrendered, and many were taken to Mankato, Minn., to face a military tribunal. On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged, which according to the website remains the largest public execution in American history. The survivors spent the winter in Fort Snelling, then moved by steamboat to what was still then the Dakota Territory.

Though event organizers admit the founding of Fort Thompson elicits painful memories for the tribe, the annual pow wow has become a celebration, a place for American Indians from around the state, and even the nation, to gather.

"It's more or less a social gathering, with a little competition involved," Zephier said.

Roland Hawk Sr., Crow Creek Tribal Council treasurer and one of the event organizers, agreed, and said some of the other special events of this year's pow wow included a gathering of 100 to 200 Chippewa elders from out of state. They had a luncheon, and the opportunity to share stories and memories, Hawk said.

Drums and dancers came from as far as Canada, Oklahoma, Missouri and Michigan, Hawk said.

"They come from all over," he said.

The beginning of the day's events also included special recognition of veterans and recent high school graduates.

"A lot of different people come back to the reservation," Hawk said. "We see a lot of friends we don't see but once a year at the pow wow."