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89 Days

Wacipi is a celebration of dancing, drums, and culture

All Wacipi photos taken between 2014 and 2019
All Wacipi photos taken between 2014 and 2019Courtesy of Eamon Coyne

by Lianna Matt McLernon

August 16, 2022

The three-day Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) Wacipi, or powwow, has events from Friday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, Aug. 21, but for a quintessential one, go to the Grand Entry on Saturday. Hundreds of dancers will enter the arena dressed in their full regalia, dancing to the same song with different styles. You'll see women jingle dancers with rows of tin jingles on their dresses and eagle plumes on their heads. Those who dance men's traditional styles may carry shields or weapons and wear a bustle of feathers. And still more dancers will keep coming embodying other dance styles, such as grass, chicken, or fancy shawl.

Dancing, and dancing competitions, are a huge part of the free wacipi (pronounced wah-CHEE-pee), as are drumming events. Attendees can also experience beautiful crafts, cultural food (including all the fry bread you can eat), and ceremonial rituals such as prayers and flag songs.

For one family, though, it really is about the dancing.

"I started dancing when I was in kindergarten. I'm now going into my senior year," says 17-year-old Caley Coyne. "I enjoy dancing at powwows because dancing gives me a sense of peace. It helps me forget about all my worries, and I just focus on dancing as well as the songs."

Her sibling, 14-year-old Kai — who is also the 2022 senior ambassador for the American Indian Magnet School — says that they enjoy dancing at powwows as a way to connect with their culture. "It's a way to show my appreciation, and pride, of being Native American."

Two children in Native American regalia
Kai (in red) and Caley (in blue) Coyne wearing Native American regalia.
Courtesy of Eamon Coyne

Caley and Kai have attended the SMSC Wacipi with their family since 2012. As part Alaska Native (Athabascan and Yupik on their mother's side) but Minnesota-born, they have taken strides to connect with the local Native culture by learning Ojibwe and enrolling at the American Indian Magnet School.

It was the school's cultural events and weekly "Drum and Dance" sessions that first got them into dancing. (To get a hint of what drumming can sound like, check out two of Caley's favorite Native musicians, Fawn Wood and Northern Cree drum group.) While Caley now goes to weekly dance practices at the Minneapolis Indian Center as well, for a significant part of the siblings' dancing journeys, they learned by watching others and asking questions.

"I always (and still do) look up to the people older than me that dance the same style," Caley says. "Everyone in the community is willing and able to help teach our traditions."

In the same way, Caley, Kai, and their father Eamon (who works for Minnesota Public Radio as a broadcast engineer) paint the same welcoming atmosphere of the wacipi at large. Those who aren't part of Native American culture are welcome, and if you're feeling nervous about etiquette, the festival program offers insight such as not touching the dancers' regalia (and not calling it a costume). The emcees will also guide you through the event, telling you which moments that photography is not permitted, such as the naming ceremonies, or asking you to stand if you're able for certain songs.

"Basically, just use common sense and show respect as you would at any event you go to," Eamon says. "You're there as an observer, so just take it in and experience the beauty and history of it all."

And if you made it to the Grand Entry on Saturday? You may as well stay through the evening's dance competitions and fireworks. Kai says, "The competition dances are so fascinating to watch because people come from all over the world, so there's different footwork and regalia designs. The fireworks [afterward] bring people together because at the same time, there's a round dance where everyone is invited, regalia or not."

 Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Wacipi begins Friday, Aug. 19. Info here.

A collage featuring outdoor concert, pow wow, baseball, state fair
Minneapolis artist Andrés Guzmán created three original pieces of 89 Days of Summer artwork.
Andrés Guzmán for MPR

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days of Summer series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.