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Thursday, June 12, 2003 02:20 pm

Return of the Kickapoo

On June 14 qnd 15, an intertribal pow wow will commemorate the Indians who

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On June 14 and 15, for the sixth year in a row, the Grand Village of the Kickapoo Park--a few miles northeast of LeRoy, about an hour away from Springfield--will be the scene of color, sound, and dancing, as many from the four directions of Turtle Island (as North America is known) gather for an Intertribal Pow Wow commemorating the Indians who lived there until the 1830s. Held on the site of a documented historic village of a band of Kickapoo Indians, who were forcibly removed by the U. S. Army, this event is considered by many as one of the most important of its kind. It offers a glimpse of Native Americans rediscovering their traditions after more than 100 years of subjugation. It literally took an act of Congress--and President Jimmy Carter's signature on the Native American Freedom of Religion Act in 1978--to make pow wows such as this one a legal gathering in the United States.

The story of this particular pow wow and the land where it occurs is remarkable, and a testament to the dedication of Bill Emmett and his late wife, Doris, who in the early 1990s purchased a farm in McLean County after they learned of its historical significance and its danger of being developed into a mega hog farm. The proposed site of a waste pond was the very location where many of the land's previous inhabitants are buried.

Intertribal Pow Wow organizers have printed booklet that explains this weekend's ritual: "A pow wow is a Native American gathering that traditionally celebrates the end of a season and the beginning of a new one. Most of the original nations of North America existed as scattered bands. But at least once a year, they'd gather for feasting, dancing, drumming, and singing, meeting old friends and making new ones. It was a time and place to thank the Creator for the blessings of the past season, and to ask for continued blessings in the next."

While termed "an intertribal event" permitting both American Indians as well as those of non-native ancestry to participate, it is expected that many of the decedents of this land's original inhabitants will return for the weekend. Following their forced removal by the federal government in the early 1830s, the Kickapoo eventually dispersed to four locations: the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas, and the Coahuilla State of Mexico. It is in this Mexican state, in the encampment of El Nacimiento, where uninhibited by American laws their culture was preserved. Within the village you'll find cattail and sapling-frame lodges similar to the wigwams of their village in Illinois.

Asked why pow wows are important, Phyllis Fairbanks of Oklahoma City, another Kikicapoo descendent, replied, "It is important for the kids to learn their culture and language, and to be in an arena dancing and not running in the streets."

To get to the Kickapoo Grand Village Park, take the Leroy exit 149 from I-74. Drive through Leroy to School Street, and turn right. After approximately five miles, turn left on County Road #3100 and follow the signs. The Grand Entry is scheduled for 1 p.m and 7 p.m Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday.

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