A rich cultural tradition will return to the northern Panhandle, extending history’s reach and perhaps boosting the City of Crawford’s economy.
The White River Wacipi Committee hosted its first-ever wacipi at the Crawford Park and Rodeo Grounds over the weekend. While there was no dancing this first year, the group accomplished the construction of the entire arbor and is already preparing events for the months and years to come.
“The Sioux used to camp here,” said Angie Taylor, committee chairman, pointing to the land beyond the newly-erected arbor not far inside the gates of the city park.
A group of individuals have been wanting to have a powwow in Crawford for five or six years, she explained, though she prefers to use the more traditional word wacipi.
“We just couldn’t get it off the ground.”
Finally, over the course of the last year, they organized their committee and approached the Crawford City Council.
Mayor Dave Nixon said from a cultural and historical perspective providing the committee with a location for their permanent structure was a “no-brainer.” With the disappearance of the annual powwow at Fort Robinson, the White River Wacipi can call the City of Crawford home, adding one more item of value to the city’s park and rodeo grounds. Visitors to the annual wacipi will no longer have to pay a park fee, either, to enjoy the festivities.
“We’re glad to have them,” Nixon said.
Those on hand Friday worked to construct the arbor, while Saturday included an intertribal ceremony. Memorial songs floated through the air, drifting over the ground once inhabited by the area’s Sioux people.
Taylor laughed as she described the group’s work to design arbor without measuring tape.
“We stood out there holding (a length) of rope. We were like pioneers,” she said, invoking an image of her long ago relatives, camped above what is now the rodeo grounds. Taylor’s great-great-grandfather rode with Crazy Horse, and here great-great-grandmother was part of the Cheyenne Outbreak at Fort Robinson.
“We still have a long ways to go. We’re doing this on a shoestring,” Taylor noted. All of the funds for constructing the arbor were donated, and the committee is planning a fundraiser at the site during the Aug. 21 solar eclise. Taylor hopes to have a storyteller available to talk about the Native American star stories, and maybe a dancer. All of the funds raised – or donated to the White River Wacipi through the Crawford Chamber of Commerce – will be used to maintain and improve the site and to host an annual wacipi. The committee hopes to one day add lights and running water at the location.
Pauline and Madeline Garnier were pleased to take part in the weekend’s events. Descendants of Spotted Elk, their great-great-grandfather was Little Bat Garnier, a scout and interpreter for General Crook. Garnier was killed by a bartender in Crawford and is buried in the Fort Robinson Cemetery. A Nebraska State Historical Society plaque still honors his memory at 20 Main Street in Crawford.
The Garnier sisters recall camping with their family along the banks of the White River during the summers, returning to the reservation in the winter; regardless of where they were living, their father insisted that hard work and education be their priorities.
Bringing a piece of their family’s history and culture back to the traditional camping grounds of their ancestors was a sight to see.
“It made me happy,” said Pauline, summing up their feelings succinctly.