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Fox Cities Celebrates Indigenous Peoples and Their Identity

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Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
 

As part of the Center’s mission to bring multicultural live performing arts experiences to the Fox Cities, we inform and invite you to the upcoming, local Indigenous cultural events taking place. I had the privilege to talk with people involved with Neenah Historical Society, Appleton’s Trout Museum of Art and the contemporary Native American show Brulé about how they celebrate the Indigenous community.
 
Brulé:
Brulé is a contemporary, rock performance featuring music, dance and storytelling celebrating Native American culture. Compared in popularity to the likes of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Celtic Thunder and Riverdance with the emotional impact of Native American culture, these artists continue to delight and inspire audiences well into their 26th year of touring.
 
I spoke with Paul LaRoche, the founder and “Father” of this contemporary and familial group. Wearing many hats, Paul is the primary writer/composer and has been the recording engineer, music producer, video producer, graphic designer, MC and live show producer for this award-winning Native American music group. He has produced 20 CD’s, 5 full length concert videos, promotional materials, 1 book and 100 (30 min) TV episodes for the TV show “Hidden Heritage”.
 
A typical live performance showcases a four-member band, up to 10 dancers, 2 tech crew and additional production personnel. Brulé features Paul’s daughter, Nicole, as the lead instrumentalist and front person and Paul’s son, Shane, as the current drummer and former guitarist. Even Paul’s wife, Kathy, is the group’s Business/Road Manager while his nephew, Chris, is the lead men’s dancer. Also joining the group is Vlasis (current guitarist). Though Vlasis is first generation Greek, he is considered a family member and has been with the group from the start.
 
What makes this group so unique is the blend of contemporary Native American music with Traditional Native American dance. Paul stated, “We call it pioneering one of the last musical frontiers.” And it certainly is an unforgettable experience with women’s and men’s dances, eye-catching regalia, a heartfelt storyline, instrumental performances, light humor and so much more.
 
To recognize as many Native American tribes as possible, Brulé includes traditional dancers from many Native American tribes. Many of the show’s dancers come from the production’s home in the northern plains of South Dakota. However, due to growing popularity, featured dancers in the show now come from across the country. And given the traveling nature and inclusivity of Brulé, local and regional dancers are included in the show when possible. The September 17 performance at the Fox Cities P.A.C. will feature dancers from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and South Dakota as well some Southwest tribes.
 
When asking Paul what audiences may learn and take away after seeing the show, he said, “It’s common for the audience to leave with a new perspective and positive image of the American Indian culture. Native America today is a traditional culture adapting to modern times, while still embracing their traditional ways. While Native America has been over romanticized in the movies, the Brulé show provides a window, through the arts, into what the culture is today.”
 
Some fun facts:
  • There are more than 550 recognized Native American tribes today.
  • Work to do: There is currently no category in the Grammys® and no Radio formats or TV channels specifically recognizing traditional Native American music.
  • Brulé recently drew the largest crowd ever for a Levitt Shell concert in Sioux Falls South Dakota (July 2022) with more than 10,000 people in attendance.
Brulé will perform at the Fox Cities P.A.C. at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 17. To learn more, visit foxcitiespac.com/brulé. Ticketholders are invited to the Kimberly-Clark Theater before the performance to learn more about the company and how they have shared the emotional impact of the American Indian culture with audiences for more than 25 years. This event is free for Brulé ticketholders as part of the Community First Community Engagement Series, with support from Community First Credit Union. Doors open at 6:30 with the presentation from 6:40-7:00 p.m.
 
Neenah Historical Society:
Neenah Historical Society (NHS) is the Center’s Community Engagement Partner for Brulé. NHS hosts an Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow in Neenah’s Shattuck Park, welcoming dancers and drummers from various tribes throughout Wisconsin. This partnership is about supporting, celebrating and broadening awareness of the Native American culture and community for both groups.
 
The Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow is an excellent opportunity to learn about and observe Native American traditions, including the significance of Pow Wows. This year’s Pow Wow features three drum groups, Native American dancers from all over the state, food provided by Woodland Boys and Girls Club and horse-drawn wagon rides sponsored by the Neenah Landmarks Commission. Tribe members from Oneida, Menominee, Stockbridge-Munsee and others will take part in this Pow Wow. Dancers from any Wisconsin Native American tribe are welcome to participate.
 
When asked about what NHS hopes attendees will learn and take away from this experience, Becky Heidke Kwiatkowski, Associate Executive Director and Treasurer responded, “We are hoping that attendees experience important aspects of the Native American culture - to enjoy the sights, sounds, and participate if they can. It gives us all an opportunity to learn more about another's culture and gain an understanding of it…. if we take the time to listen and learn.”
 
Some fun facts:
  • In the 1930s, Helen Kimberly Stuart organized a Pow Wow in Neenah.
  • An archeological investigation of a trail along Lakeshore Avenue (called the Helen Kimberly Stuart Trail) led to 80,000 artifacts being recovered.
  • The Helen Kimberly Stuart Trail features signs with interpretive components including a Menominee greeting from elder Dennis Kenote and flute music from 3-time Grammy Award winning artist Bill Miller.
The Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow will take place on Saturday, September 17 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public at the Shattuck Park in Neenah. To learn more about this and future events through Neenah Historical Society, visit neenahhistoricalsociety.com.
 
Trout Museum of Art:
With the recent opening of Appleton’s Trout Museum of Art’s exhibit “Reclaiming Identity”, the public may view artistic pieces created by Indigenous artists from the U.S. and Mexico. These pieces express many themes surrounding identity and culture, such as family lineage, shared histories, colonization, assimilation and more.  
 
Ann Weuve, Curator for the Trout Museum, and Dakota Mace (Diné), an interdisciplinary artist and the Guest Curator for the “Reclaiming Identity” exhibit shared their thoughts on the newly installed exhibition.
 
Dakota’s work focuses on translating the language of Diné (Navajo) history and beliefs. Drawing from her own history and heritage of Indigenous culture, Dakota explores themes of family, lineage, community and identity through alternative photography techniques, weaving, beadwork and papermaking.
 
Ann embraced the museum’s mission to provide visual arts and creative experiences that inspire and connect people by inviting Dakota to the role of Guest Curator. “Reclaiming Identity” features contemporary, Indigenous artists with Dakota having chosen the central topic as “blood quantum”, a method used by the U.S. federal government in the 1900s to measure Indigenous identity through percentage or tribe affiliation.
 
Ann remarked, “The advantage to inviting a guest curator is to bring new exhibition topics and curation styles into our space and community. With Dakota being an indigenous artist (Diné), curator and educator herself, she has the knowledge and expertise to make this an authentic and inspiring show.”
 
Some of the tribes represented in “Reclaiming Identity” Exhibit are: Ho-Chunk, Diné, Filipino, Nahua, Hawaiin, Chippewa, Northern Ute, Chicano, Jemez Pueblo and many more.
 
People viewing this exhibit can expect to see artwork reflecting what it means to live and find balance as an Indigenous person in today’s modern world. Since the themes are universal, community members will find themselves drawn to the relatability of the artists through stories of struggles and triumphs. Even those who are not of Indigenous heritage can find meaning in such a personally expressive exhibit.
 
Through this art exhibition, a lens is focused on the struggles and triumphs of celebrating culture in Indigenous communities. By community members partaking in this experience, they will join in the larger conversation of identity and what it means to preserve culture. For Indigenous peoples, the objective, as Dakota noted, is to dismantle “colonial constructs of identity” through the reclamation of their culture. The artists featured in the exhibit are achieving this by exploring and going beyond blood quantum restrictions.
 
Dakota is hoping that community members will learn and take away from the exhibition “the opportunity to understand the histories, stories and cultural significance” of the featured artists. By joining in the discourse focusing primarily on blood quantum issues in all its complexities that exist for the Indigenous communities, perhaps people will gain a better understanding of a convoluted topic and the culturally rich community it greatly impacts.
 
The “Reclaiming Identity” Exhibit is open to public now until January 8, 2023 in the Main and Mezzanine Galleries, 1st and 2nd Floors at the Trout Museum of Art. To learn more about this and other exhibits or events at the Trout Museum of Art, visit Troutmuseum.org
 
We hope you take the time to enjoy these events exploring and celebrating Indigenous culture in our own backyard.
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