July 22, 2015

The heartbeat of the powwow

By Jerry W. Kram

Anyone who has ever attended a powwow will always remember the rhythmic, almost hypnotic beat of the drums that accompany the hundreds of dancers that fill the area. The drums - the term is used for both the instruments and the groups that play them - are central not only to the dances, but also serve as a repository for cultural traditions, both ancient and new.

At the Santee Lucky Mound Powwow, Delmer Crows Breast was the drum keeper. Actually, his son, Delmer Jr. was the keeper, but the elder Crows Breast was helping him out.

"Since he’s a little guy, we have to step up for him," Crows Breast said. "The drum keeper picks the host drum, who will set the tone for the powwow. Then we make sure the drums are taken care of. We make sure they have plenty of cold water and maybe some cough drops for their singing. We offer a pack of cigarettes to the drum to pay respect."

The drum keeper is also a member of the powwow committee, and helps with the fundraising and planning that goes on through the winter and spring to prepare for the summer powwows.


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