Great Dakota Gathering


The Winona Dakota Gathering, Homecoming & Powwow is an annual event for families of indigenous and local populations and around the region. It is held in Unity Park at the East end of Lake Winona and this year it will be held September 10th & 11th, 2016.

Since its beginning, the WDUA has been involved in a number of initiatives to facilitate friendships by promoting education and reconciliation of cultural misunderstandings among and between descendants of indigenous and non-indigenous populations. The annual Winona Dakota Gathering, Homecoming & Powwow is an important part of the WDUA mission.

Winona’s Great Dakota Gathering is unlike any other Powwow around. Enlightening, energizing, invigorating, and powerfully moving, the Great Dakota Gathering invites Native American families and descendants of settlers together to explore Native American culture, celebrate friendships, have fun together, nurture reconciliation, and enjoy the meaningful and energizing tradition of dancing. The event includes a Grand Entry Dance by talented Native American dancers, a learning tent where youngsters can explore Native American culture, games and activities for kids to have fun together and build friendships, a unity feast, Sunrise and other ceremonies, and a talk circle in which a focus for the day is introduced along with historical background and participants are invited to join in honest heartfelt discussion.

Wacipi (Pow wow)

Wacipi (pronounced wa-CHEE-pee) means “they dance” in Dakota and refers to pow wow or dancing in the Area. In its recent history, Wacipi (pow wows) on many Reservations have evolved into big annual competitive events with cash prizes for the winners. Pow wows provide Native Americans with the opportunity to renew friendships and preserve heritage by traveling from Wacipi to Wacipi throughout the summer. Since Winona is not a Reservation, our Wacipi is on a smaller scale, but it is nonetheless authentic. It is managed and danced by American Indians and follows the rules and traditions of all pow wows. The Master of Ceremonies announces everything all day and is the final authority for Wacipi-related decisions.

  • Arena: Blessed before dancing, the arena is considered a sacred ground and should be treated with respect. Profanity and unruly behavior is not appropriate. Never cut across to the opposite side. Treat the arena as you would a church. Use the “doors” to enter and exit.
  • Grand Entry: Participants enter the arena during the first song. Spectators are asked to stand if able. Men should remove hats.
    • Entrance song: Participants enter in this order.
      • Honor Guards/Flag Bearers may include tribal flags, eagle staffs of tribes/families, US & Canadian flags, service flags, POW flags.
      • Guests including tribal chiefs, elders, & powwow royalty.
      • Men dancers
      • Women dancers
      • Children dancers
    • Additional Songs: When everyone has entered the arena, additional songs may include: Song to Honor the Flag, Song to Honor Veterans, Invocation


Learning Tent

Native American artists and scholars provide visitors the opportunity to see and learn about important aspects of native life through high quality demonstrations and displays. This Learning Tent is set up to mirror a truer form of “Indian Education,” which is to educate as needed and within a specific context, to make sense and be meaningful. Table-top events may include beadwork, silverwork, cradleboards, quillwork, moccasins, toys & games, buffalo rib-bone rattles, dream catchers, Dakota language, children’s drums & more.


Talk Circle

The Talk Circle is the heart of the Winona Dakota Gathering. A moderator, called the “Circle Maker” introduces a focus for the day and provides histrorical background. The Circle Maker explains the procedure and invites discussion. As one’s turn comes up, each person may choose to talk or listen (‘pass’).

The reason this event is so important is because it directly facilitates friendships and one-to-one interactions. Descendants of people who were at war 150 years ago, are not to blame for what their ancestors did. However, when people suffer by each other’s hand, “historical trauma” is real to the descendants on all sides. Simple acknowledgement of the trauma, based on knowledge of the truth of the past, may reduce fear and discomfort and trigger the beginning of friendships and understanding. The WDUA Talk Circle promotes good feelings among all participants.


Unity Feast

The Dakota as well as other native American nations are known for generous hospitality, gift-giving, and providing food for people who attend Wacipi (pow wow). In the spirit of that tradition, the WDUA invites indigenous populations and local residents to share in community feasting. The feast is a time to honor special guests and elders and remember ancestors in a ceremonial way.

Before anyone begins eating, the Spiritual Leader for the Gathering leads everyone in the following rituals:

  • Preparing the Ancestors’ Plate: Small bits of each food are placed on a plate with a little tobacco (a traditional Native American gift)
  • Serving the Elders: Elders of all races and groups are seated in a reserved section and served at their tables by young people.



Spiritual ceremonies are important to experience because spiritual ceremonies are at the center of traditional life. In Minnesota, Dakota ceremonies were outlawed until the Jimmy Carter years in the White House. As trust has built, people have begun to share their spiritual ceremonies with the people of Winona. Some in which we’ve been privileged to participate include: Sunrise Ceremony, Wiping of Tears, and Friendship Honoring Ceremony. In contemporary Native American life, traditional spirituality and Christianity are often blended. The WDUA seeks to provide authentic ceremonies in which anyone can find meaning. They are planned and guided by spiritual leader from Native American & Christian traditions.

  • Sun Rise Ceremony: (Sat & Sun morning) This is a sacred time to honor the  day as a blessing. All are encouraged to attend. However, participants must be free of alcohol/chemicals and women in their monthly cycle (moon) may not participate.
  • Akicita, Veterans, and Flag Ceremonies: Today’s Native Americans have as strong a history of service to Country as they do their Tribes. In today’s context. Akicita (a Dakota word pronounced ah-KEE-chee-tah) refers to “warrior.” Each year, the Akicita ceremonies, veteran ceremonies, and flag ceremonies are held with several Honor Guards at Unity Park and/or Lake Winona’s Veteran’s Park to honor veterans and warriors past and present.
  • Sunday Community Spiritual Service: Native American music, prayers, and purifying sage are blended with Christian music and liturgy. The focus varies, but always includes special ceremonies, guests, celebrations, and themes.