During the ten years John and I were together, it was always a moment of pride to be in the audience and listen to him play. I sometimes wished that I had known him when he was young and did the Mens Fancy Dance, but I did get the pleasure of watching his nephews do the Grass Dance--imagine fields of long grass being blown by fall breezes, swaying and rustling as the warriors slip through it-- when it was another drum's turn to fill the arena with rhythmic thunder.
During more than fifteen years at Crisler, the Dance for Mother Earth grew to be the third-largest competition powwow in the country. Art Brandt says that it kicked off the season for many performers who follow the circuit from one event to the next. Some years the arena would be so packed that the air grew stifling, even though it was end-of-winter cold outside.
The U-M has supported the powwow financially since the early 1980s. By the mid-2000s, though, the relationship between the university and the U-M Native American Student Association (NASA) was strained over several issues, including tribal demands for repatriation of Native American remains from U-M museums. At the 2008 powwow, more than 1,000 seats were roped off as a symbolic protest. The following year, NASA moved the powwow to Saline Middle School.