The logo for the Leech Lake Culture Alliance

One of the founding fathers of our little town suggested, “If our new town is to succeed, we must learn to get along with our neighboring native nation.”

Unity Day! What a marvelous and magnificent day held annually in the spirit of that founding father — Pat McGarry!

What does Unity Day mean to the residents of the Leech Lake Area — including all the surrounding communities around our great inland sea and our neighboring native nation? Does it mean a day when the sun crosses the celestial equator, when day and night are of approximately equal length? Or, does Unity Day mean a day when the residents around Leech Lake get together with our neighboring native nation in a spirit of fun, fellowship and unity?

Actually, it means both, and the day is so wonderfully important to the future of our entire Leech Lake Area, that there could — and should be two Unity Days. The vernal equinox in March and the autumnal equinox in September could and should be celebrated alternately in Walker on one of those equinox days and in Onigum on the other.

There is a little-known, but extremely important and active organization in the Leech Lake Area, established in the spirit of Pat McGarry, and very appropriately called the Leech Lake Culture Alliance. The mission of the LLCA is, as the word “alliance” implies — to preserve and enhance the association, cooperation, interconnection and unity between all the residents of the Leech Lake area.

A sacred symbol of the organization in Walker stands in the Walker City Rock Garden. It is a beautiful bronze statue of an Ojibwe hoop dancer — using four hoops that according to Anishinaabe culture, represent those four very important qualities — association, cooperation, interconnection and unity. As long as Unity Day is also celebrated in Onigum, would it not be appropriate to have another Statue of Unity in front of the beautiful Onigum Community Center?

The second Unity Day was held on the Autumnal Equinox this year, and Martha Vetter, one of the very active members of LLCA was there.

In last week’s Pilot, Martha wrote an article about the event, and in case you didn’t read it, I am honored to quote some of her words.

“The second annual autumnal equinox, sponsored by the Leech Lake Culture Alliance, took place on the lawn of the lovely Onigum Community Center. Hungry children chased around, laughing and playing, happily oblivious to the predinner welcoming speakers. Around 200 folks, including elders, middleagers, youngsters and teenagers sat on tables covered with the traditional colors of unity — red, blue, green and yellow.

“Torri Vande Zande, a member of the LLAC, skillfully MC’d the event, and introduced Gary Charwood, who is the Cultural Coordinator of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Gary gave a hearty welcome to everybody, especially the elders of the tribe.

“As he was speaking, Priscilla Smith, chairperson of the LLCA, gathered bits of food from each dish on the serving table. Gary then gave an Ojibwe blessing, holding up the “Spirit Plate” to the north, south, east and west. He sprinkled the traditional tobacco on the plate, as the food and tobacco are offerings to the spirit who nourishes us all.

“Walker Mayor Annie McMurrin gave an enthusiastic greeting from the city, and Faron Jackson, chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, was delighted with the gathering and urged everyone to come to a pow-wow, which will be held on the grounds of the Onigum Community Center in July.

“Father Matthew Cobb, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church, offered the blessing, and it was time to eat! The tables were filled with a plethora of foods. There were nine crock pots of deep-fried Leech Lake walleye, Swedish meatballs, hominy chowder, Mexican chili, Italian lasagna, Unity beans, Norwegian lefsa, salads, cookies, cakes, chips and cheese! A traditional Round Dance was led by Tribal Royalty Princess Kaleah Marrow Jackson and Junior Princess Amiyah Marrow Jackson. Hand-in-hand, dancing around the tables, all moving to the sound of the drum, the second annual equinox celebration ended with the Unity of a Circle.”

Our founding father, Pat McGarry would be pleased, proud, glad and gratified!

The views and opinions expressed in the “The old and the new” column belong solely to the author, and not The Pilot-Independent or an organization, committee or individual.


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