RED LAKE, Minn. — While many were celebrating the United States Independence Day on July Fourth, the celebration was just getting started on Tuesday, July 6, in the Red Lake Nation.
Red Lakers came together at the powwow grounds once again to acknowledge the 113-year anniversary of a treaty that ensured the nation's sovereignty and solidified its refusal to comply with the Dawes Allotment Act.
After a months-long pandemic hiatus, crowds gathered together joyfully in the powwow grounds. Hundreds came out to celebrate the nation’s sovereignty, enjoy food, dancing, singing and drumming. The Tuesday evening sky was full of rolling clouds over Red Lake before a firework display capped off the night.
Tribal Secretary Sam Strong addressed the crowd ahead of the culmination of the dancing and drumming competitions.
“We're here celebrating our history, our identity, our way of life, and celebrating our unity coming together and seeing our dancers, our singers, and celebrating who we are,” he said. “Without you, we would not have this celebration. So let's enjoy this weekend. Let's be safe. Let's remember who we are.”
“It is a great feeling to be here tonight. We want to welcome all our visitors, our dancers and spectators to the great Red Lake Nation,” Tribal Treasurer Annette Johnson added. “We have to remember why we're doing what we love to do — singing and dancing. We're singing and dancing for those who are hurting, going through a sickness, or who have lost loved ones.”
History of Red Lake Independence Day
The Red Lake Nation Independence Day celebration marks a significant historical event.
According to the Red Lake Nation website, Red Lake Nation's annual Independence Day celebration commemorates the tribe's formal sovereignty under an 1889 land agreement with the U.S. government.
The Red Lake Nation chiefs and a representative of the U.S. government signed a treaty on July 6, 1889. In doing so, they avoided the Dawes Act allotment of their lands to individuals. As a result, all Red Lake Nation territory is held in common by all tribal members, rather than being parceled out. The nation’s sovereignty is a point of pride for many band members.
“Fortunately, the Chiefs of Red Lake never consented to allotment. The Red Lake Chiefs steadfastly refused to accept the notion of allotment. They wanted to keep the land for future generations. Red Lake is legally defined as a ‘closed reservation’ because the aboriginal land of the Red Lake Band was never allotted. The reservation land is held in common by all Red Lake members,” Tribal Archivist Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu wrote on the Red Lake Nation History Project website.
“On July 6, 1889, at the signing of the Treaty drawn up by the Rice Commission, Red Lake Chief, May-dway-gwa-no-nind (‘he that is spoken to,’) made his last talk at the council and asked that no liquor be allowed on the reservation, saying, ‘It would be the ruin of all these persons that you see here should that misfortune come to them.’ He also asked that a trader be allowed to live amongst them with stores of goods for the Indians to purchase. He then asked Chairman Rice to sign the Treaty before he did.”
As a way of remembering the perseverance and determination of the chiefs who preserved their remaining land, Red Lakers hold a celebration every July.
Tuesday night began with a grand entry — the first of four over the course of the three-day celebration.
First through the threshold came the honor guard three-star warrior society, and delegations from the tribal council. Then came the youth royalty, who have held their titles since 2019 due to the pandemic.
After that, came an onslaught of colorful dancers, adorned in traditional regalia. Styles of dance on display from participants of all ages, from “Tiny Tots” divisions to the “Golden Age” division.
The dancers wear various kinds of regalia depending on the style of dancing they do: traditional, woodland, grass, jingle and fancy. Dancers' outfits reflect their individuality and sense of taste.
Along with the dancers, were more than a dozen competing drum groups. Two groups hosted the event, rotating throughout the day: the Blacklodge group from White Swan, Wash. and Southern Boyz group from Lawton, Okla.
The event was emceed by Lawrence Baker and Keveon Kingbird, and also featured food booths and craft stalls. Winners of the different events were entitled to prize money.
The annual parade was held Wednesday after being delayed from Tuesday afternoon due to rain.
Grand entries were also held on Wednesday and are set for 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon at the Red Lake Powwow Grounds.