The 145th Annual Homecoming Celebration, which runs from July 28 through 31, is celebrated as the oldest continuous memorial pow wow in Indian country.
What’s new this year is that the ceremonies will be streaming live on the radio (www.live365.com from Little Priest Tribal College) from the time the observance starts with raising the veterans’ flag at 6 a.m., Thursday in Veterans Memorial Park, US 75, east of Winnebago, Nebraska.
Veterans play a unique role in the history of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska (Ho-Chunk Nation). The 145th Annual Homecoming Celebration commemorates the return of Chief Little Priest and the Fort Omaha Scouts, Company A, 34th Nebraska Volunteers, of the tribe. It also honors all of the tribe’s veterans and servicepeople, past and present.
The four-day pow wow features traditional songs and dances and traditional food. Open to the public, it draws 20 to 25 drum groups, and 500 to 700 dancers from all over the country, said Claudine E. Farmer, Communications/Public Relations for the tribe.
Since July of 1866, the Winnebago people have held the pow wow to honor their last great War Chief. Little Priest’s actions resulted in a permanent home for the people, who had suffered forced moves time after time due to American settlement and government interference.
“The blood that he spilled is the reason we are still on the reservation today,” writes Tribal Historian David “Tim” Smith, who is a UCLA graduate and Director of Indian Studies at Little Priest Tribal College.
During one of the forced moves in 1863, when the Winnebago were shipped down the Mississippi and up the Missouri rivers, Little Priest ordered two men to fall off the boat and swim to the Omaha tribe and ask if the Winnebagos could buy some land in the northern part of the Omaha’s territory, in Nebraska. The Omahas granted the request – but meanwhile many of the Winnebagos who had just been moved to Fort Thompson were dying in harsh conditions.
U.S. Army General Alfred Sully made an agreement with Little Priest. If the war chief would help him against the Western Sioux, then he would use his influence to help relocate the Winnebago to Nebraska, Smith’s research recounts.
“Little Priest knew it was wrong to fight against his own brothers,” says the history detailed on the tribe’s web site, “but in order to save his people, he joined General Alfred Sully.”
He was finally wounded in 1866 outside of Deer Creek Fort in Wyoming by a band of Oglala Lakota and some Northern Cheyenne warriors. His horse was shot out from under him, but he is said to have fought for hours more, holding his ground as a grizzly bear would. His wounds proved fatal after he was taken home to the newly bought Winnebago Reservation. He died on Sept. 12, 1866.
Ho-Chunk/Winnebago history inspired another native son to write a book that was published in October 2010. Alan Walker is the great-great gandson of William Hatchett, one of the original 75 warriors who volunteered to scout for the U.S. Army in 1863. Every Warrior Has His Own Song concludes with Walker’s own service as a Marine in the Vietnam War.
The 2011 pow wow honors one of the tribe’s servicemen who is retiring after 22 years in the Air Force, Technical Sergeant Jay Kyle Jacobs.
“The pow wow is about honoring our veterans and also entertaining them, too,” added Jerome LaPointe, Sr., editor of Winnebago Indian News. Certain dances and programs “hopefully will put a smile on the faces of our veterans.”
Head Man Dancer is John Hunter, Jr., a member of the Eagle Clan. Head Woman Dancer is Thelma “Chickie” Whitewater, a descendant of Whitewolf, who served in Company A.
“I dance for those who have passed on and those who are unable to dance,” she said. “I pray while I am in the arena, because I believe the pow wow arena is a place of healing.”
For tribal member Benny Eagle, it certainly will be. Eagle, 72, has danced in the pow wow since he was seven years old. He had open heart surgery last October 4, but two weeks before this pow wow, he was cleared by doctors to dance.
“You should have heard me hollering around in that hospital – I was war whooping,” Eagle described getting the good news.
“It’s a healing process for me when I get into the circle. Once I do that, I’m happy.”