There was sadness then healing in the inaugural intertribal pow wow organized by Mitzi and Brian Cooper in Shelbyville, Illinois.
In the early morning of the first day of the three-day Kaskaskia River Powwow, September 21 to 23, the Cooper’s received news that their cousin Hawk With Seven Eyes passed away.
“He was very ill. He wanted to go. He had a disease that did not allow him to, but he found a way to come,” said Mitzi Cooper who is part Cherokee, Choctaw, Cree and Lakota, of her cousin who has been a mentor and encouraging in educating their family on their Indian heritage.
On that same Friday morning, Cooper said they saw seven hawks circling the pow wow grounds. “It was awesome to see and remember that.”
“We expected to see the eagles come with the drumming,” said Cooper of the frequent visitors to the Kaskaskia River but not the hawks that especially made the occasion special just after the death of her cousin.
“Our hawks were a great comfort during our time of grieving. We will always remember them,” said Cooper, who shared that there was another death in her pow wow family around the same time, which affected the mood of the event. “There was sadness there.”
The gathering, which featured Native music and drums, a hand drum competition, gourd dancing, grand entry, veteran’s recognition and Native crafts and food, was held at the Dam East Recreation Area of Lake Shelbyville, Illinois.
The performers included John White Antelope, Northern Arapaho, who was the MC; John Richmond, Cherokee, head man; Penny Richmond, Sac & Fox, head lady and Na-Ma-Wo-Chi (Native-Man-Woman-Child) of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, head drum.
Cooper said they plan to move their second pow wow next year to a different location but still close to the river. The pow wow date will be cut to two days instead of three and moved to the fourth week of the month, on September 28 and 29.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered us this site. They gave us what we needed for the weekend. It was a very convenient site,” said Cooper who noted that they also had traffic and road closure issues.
“I think next time it will be a little bit more out of the way, off the beaten path,” she said.
Cooper estimated around 1,000 people came for the three days. She said it rained mostly on Friday. Overall, she said it went well and they did well. Her husband and family, for the most part, bankrolled the event.
“We have been praying about this for a lot of years. We really felt we needed to do this. We just felt—last fall—that it should be the last pow wow of the season. And so we got everything together, took our time and got ready. Everything went into place. It is a great feeling,” she said.
She said there were a few pow wows in their area and they wanted to organize a gathering that would be the last one of the season. Shelbyville is located in central Illinois and is a few hours south of Chicago.
She was happy to see the people their family met at other pow wows come to support them. They came from St. Louis, Indianapolis and other areas. Even her mother, from Florida, made the trip.
Representatives from Cherokee, Lakota, Blackfeet, Sac & Fox, Oneida and Haliwa-Saponi were spotted at the event.
“We wanted to express what we have heard from so many people that I think I might be Indian. We wanted to give them a taste of what they might be missing by not following through with their ancestry,” said Cooper of the pow wow.
She said she was already approached by a few if she could help them with their genealogy search, and while she was no expert she planned to help.
“We wanted to make a difference in some way,” said Cooper of the inaugural occasion. “We learned a lot but for the most part we came away with a lot of healing.”