Dance for Mother Earth
was all over everyone just broke into laughter." Brandt throws his arthritic hands up in delight as he recalls the scene.
Brandt, who is of Mohawk heritage, has been part of the Dance for Mother Earth since it began forty years ago. "The powwow's intention in 1972 was primarily to break the stereotype of the Television Indian," the retiree recalls. The Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s glorified cowboys and settlers while reducing the people they dispossessed to, in the words of one powwow participant, "fools and savages."
At the time, the militant American Indian Movement was taking cues from the Black Panthers. The powwows that sprang up in Ann Arbor and other cities, though, took an educational route. Rejecting a century of forced assimilation, participants set out to revive long-suppressed spiritual practices, including drumming, dancing, and singing.
At first, Brandt remembers, "we weren't allowed to practice our religious ceremonies at the powwow." Until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, smudging (burning herbs), exchanging gifts of tobacco, and even the important Eagle Dance all could be prosecuted under various laws--just possessing an eagle feather risked a $25,000 fine. Today, these rites are seen in every powwow, and the convocation prayer is said in a tribal language.