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Gathering brings us together (08/06/2014)
By Amelia Wedemeyer

     Photo by Emily Buss

. The 11th annual Great Dakota Gathering will take place September 12 to September 14 in Unity Park.

For one weekend in September, Winona will return to its Dakota roots for three days filled with Native American history, linguistics, food, lacrosse games, dancing and celebrations. “[The Great Dakota Gathering] is something that everyone should witness,” said Mike Kennedy, who is part of the Winona Dakota Unity Alliance (WDUA), the organization that hosts the Gathering.

This year’s Gathering will take place September 12 to 14 in Unity Park at Lake Winona, and features “We Are All Related” as its overarching theme. “It’s a common expression of the Dakota people,” explained Bunny Welle, WDUA Board member. “This year we are also extending the hand of friendship to the Ho-Chunk people, [many of whom] live across the river in Wisconsin. Our histories have been intertwined for a long time, which goes along with ‘We Are All Related.’”

In addition to this year’s theme, the Gathering will feature presentation dancing, competitive dancing with prize money and exhibition lacrosse games. Attendees will be able to watch youth lacrosse teams participate in friendly games of both modern lacrosse and traditional lacrosse. “[There will be] Native American young men and Winona teams playing the lacrosse games,” noted Jean Hayes, WDUA Board member.

One of the highlights at the annual Gathering is the Grand Entry, during which Native American dancers are introduced, along with flag bearers, tribal leaders and elders. This year’s Grand Entry will include competitive dancing, which varies from past years when there was no competitive aspect to the dancing. Teams will be able to compete for cash prizes in several categories such as traditional, grass, fancy, jingle and appliqué. “This should be very entertaining because of the competitive aspect,” Kennedy said.

Another new component to the dancing portion of events will be the presentation dancing on Sunday, which will be performed by the Prairie Island Dance Troupe. Audience members will be able to learn about each dance as they are encouraged to participate. “We’ve done traditional dancing in the past, but presentation dancing is demonstration,” explained Welle. “It’s explaining everything so people know what they are seeing and the history behind it.”

Education is a large aspect of why WDUA hosts the annual Gathering, which they like to refer to as a weekend of “edutainment experience” for all people interested in Dakota and Native American culture. One of the important pieces to the educational experience of the weekend is the involvement of Winona area youth, who are invited to Unity Park on Friday during the day and are shown around to seven tipis, each with different activities related to Dakota culture. “It’s a phenomenal event,” Hayes said. “It’s a little assimilated powwow and [the learning experience] is very, very excellent and high quality.”

Visit http://www.winonadakotaunityalliance.org/great_dakota_gathering/ for more information on the annual Great Dakota Gathering.  


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