Kickapoo Park Powwow near LeRoy, Illinois June 2-3

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AUTHOR: Scott Richardson

What: The ninth annual Intertribal Pow Wow will be Saturday and June 3. The event will feature dancing, arts and crafts vendors, music and food.

Where: Grand Village of the Kickapoo Park, near LeRoy, Illinois

When: June 2-3, 2007

Times: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday June 2, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday June 3.

Grand entry processions: 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. June 3.

Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children age 7 and older, and no charge for kids age 6 and under.

Special guest: Singer and guitarist Michael Jacobs, Native American Music Award winner, noon and 5 p.m. Saturday and noon on June 3.

Other attractions: Art, craft and food vendors; camping is available; bring your own chairs; children’s activities will be available throughout both days. Alcohol is not allowed. Buffalo Bill, a live bison that is related to Cody, a bison that appeared in the movie “Dances with Wolves,” will attend. One of the 12 mature bison that live at the site gave birth to a calf in the past two weeks.

To get there: From Bloomington, take Interstate 74 to the LeRoy exit. Drive through LeRoy to School Street. Turn right and drive about five miles to McLean County Road 3100 East. Go left and follow the signs.

More information: Phone Angelo Padro at (309) 261-3043 or Linda Corry at (309) 275-6105.

After a two-year absence, the sound of American Indian drums and singing will fill the air Saturday and June 3 at the Grand Village of the Kickapoo Park Powwow near LeRoy.

The event is the ninth annual powwow to be held at the site in the 10 years since the park was established on private land once occupied by thousands of Kickapoo Indians.

Last year’s powwow was canceled because the property was sold in a real estate deal.

Former McLean County Board member and Bloomington police Detective Bill Emmett and his late wife, Doris, a schoolteacher, originally bought the site after learning of its historic importance while the Emmetts battled a plan to build a hog farm there.

With help from friends and volunteers, the Emmetts then hosted the first powwow. The event drew members of all three branches of the Kickapoo tribe for their first reunion since their ancestors abandoned Illinois in the early 1830s.

After Bill Emmett sold the property to Bill and Misty Vermaat of Mokena last year, the Vermaats entered into a long-term lease with the Grand Village of the Kickapoo Park board to permit the powwow to continue, according to Grand Village board members.

Board members said Misty Vermaat is a distant relative of Simeon H. West, a spiritualist who arrived in the county in the early 1850s and who erected a statue in LeRoy to a Kickapoo chief he saw in a vision. West donated 20 acres of land to McLean County just west of the Kickapoo Village site for West Park. The Vermaats could not be reached for comment.

Board President Angelo Padro thinks the turnout this year could rival the first powwow, which drew about 7,000 people over two days. Average attendance has been about 4,000.

“Everybody is really excited about it,” Padro said. “We’ve had numerous calls. It’s heartwarming to see the number of people who are supporting us.”

“It’s great,” agreed Linda Corry, the board’s secretary, who has been involved in the park with her husband, Richard, since its inception. “We’ve had lots of response wishing us the best. They’re happy it’s back.”

“The place is very important to our people, and I’m just happy,” said Joseph Standing Bear Schranz, an Ojibwa who chairs Midwest SOARRING, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to preserving American Indian culture and burial sites. Midwest SOARRING helped organize the first powwow at the site.

“We need to retain our cultural heritage wherever we can, and there are very few places appropriate to do that anymore. It’s one of those rare places, and we certainly want to support,” Schranz said.

Greg Koos, executive director of the McLean County Historical Society, once termed the site “of national importance.”

Powwows are cultural and social events that feature authentic American Indian dancing accompanied by musicians who play drums and sing authentic songs handed down among generations.

Grand entries, when all dancers enter the sacred dance ring together, kick off each day’s events.

The Grand Village of the Kickapoo powwow also features vendors selling American Indian arts and crafts and information on the history of the area.

This year’s event was blessed with the birth of a bison calf within the past two weeks. Thirteen bison now call the park home.

Padro, Corry and Schranz think preserving the park and holding cultural events like the powwows help to preserve an important part of Illinois history and the role American Indians played in it.

The Kickapoo were known as the Kiwigapawa, or “He Who Moves About,” because the tribe roamed over much of North America east of the Mississippi River. However, they apparently made homes at the Grand Village for centuries based on the written reports of explorers who first arrived there before the American Revolution.

The first mention of the village was made in 1752 when a French explorer/soldier wrote home about a large Indian settlement and fort he’d seen.

A map made in 1818, the year Illinois became a state, listed the site as the Grand Village of the Kickapoo. A surveyor counted 2,000 to 3,000 Kickapoo and more than 5,000 graves on one visit in 1824.

The area was more populated with Kickapoo than Chicago was with settlers at one time, Padro said.

The Kickapo left Illinois in 1832 after some tribal members were defeated while fighting alongside the Sauk warrior Black Hawk to reclaim his homeland in Northern Illinois. Settlement by whites was well under way by then. The newspaper that would become the Pantagraph began publishing just five years later.

“The history of Illinois and McLean County was the Kickapoos’,” Padro said. “They were very much a part of this area. It is exciting to see how the Kickapoo evolved. The education part of (the powwow and park) are very important us. We want people to understand what the area was all about in those days.”

“It’s important that people are educated about the Grand Village, about the Kickapoo and what happened back then,” added Corry.

How the Kickapoo and other American Indians lived is also important in the present, Schranz said. Powwows and places like the Grand Village lend modern people a chance to meditate on how American Indians lived in harmony with nature, a trait today’s Americans must master in the face of environmental threats like the disappearance of animal and plant species and global warming, he said.

“Just look what’s happening globally,” Schranz said. “The way Native American people dealt with the earth and preservation is really an important issue especially in these times.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Scott Richardson writes for the Pantagraph Online Newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]