For more than two decades, the powwow that culminates the annual CPN Family Reunion Festival is open only to Tribal members and their families. The reasoning for this, as Tribal Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett explained, was to give Citizen Potawatomi an opportunity to learn traditional dance. Although the original event drew highly skilled competitors from across North America’s Indian nations, Citizen Potawatomi involvement was rare before it closed to non-Tribal members.
Once the event became CPN-focused, a slow but steady resurgence began. Each year, one or two new faces appear amongst the familiar powwow participants. In 2018, one young Potawatomi from the Higbee family stood out amongst those competing.
Just over 18 months old at the time of the June 2018 event, Mikaylie Shouse was one of the youngest dancers in recent memory to compete and place at the powwow. Mikaylie’s jingle dancing in the arena thrilled her parents, Derrick and Marisa, and she earned her position as a top-three finisher in her division.
Shouse’s father Derrick was not raised in what some would consider a traditional household. While the family always knew they were Potawatomi, he did not know much about the culture when he was younger.
“I was taking care of my mom, so we didn’t have a lot of time to get down here to participate,” explained Mikaylie’s grandmother Scherry Climer, a CPN member and CPN Accounting Department employee. “When she passed away and I took the job with the Tribe six or seven years ago, that’s really when we started getting involved.”
Derrick and Marisa found that when they played powwow music from their phones, their little girl quickly picked up the beat and seemed to have a skill with keeping in step. One of Derrick’s colleagues invited the family to a Sac and Fox tribal powwow that was open to the public after seeing a photograph of her in a jingle dress her mom crafted.
Though Mikaylie’s parents describe her as shy, once the drums started, she quickly made her way to the arena for the tiny tots dance.
Marisa hand-sewed her daughter’s jingle dress, learning the process from reading books and online research. She also hand-beaded the shin and wrist guards that Mikaylie dons when dancing. A family crest reflecting the Higbee name also adorns the dress.
Grandmother Scherry noted that at the 2018 Festival, distant relatives saw her granddaughter’s dress with the family bee (for Higbee) and came over to introduce themselves.
The dress is so popular with Mikaylie that she often refuses to part with it, even at bedtime.
“There have been times we are home after she danced at a powwow, and she will not take it off without a fight,” Marisa said.
Mikaylie’s parents added they were slightly nervous the first time they took her to a powwow because the experience was as new to them as it was to their daughter. Yet seeing how quickly she picked it up, the response from fellow, more seasoned attendees has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They see that she’s properly dressed, that she watches and learns from the older dancers, and people are always so nice about us being there,” Marisa said.
It’s a good lesson for all those interested in learning more about cultural practices that may be hesitant to try.
Classes and demonstrations are available through the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center and online at the Tribe’s YouTube page, CPN Hownikan. To learn more visit potawatomiheritage.com or call 405-878-5830.