Women take the mic in male-dominated powwow emcee field

Women Take The Mic In Male Dominated Powwow Emcee Field
Nedahness Greene

This Sept. 1, 2019, photo provided by Nedahness Greene shows Deanna Rae StandingCloud at the Leech Lake Labor Day Powwow near Class Lake, Minn. StandingCloud, a citizen of the Red Lake Nation, was co-emcee of the event.

Deanna Rae StandingCloud has jokes.

She also has the voice, and the skill. Now, she just needs more opportunities to show it.

StandingCloud, Red Lake Nation, from Minneapolis, is one of the few female powwow emcees in a typically male-dominated field. Now that powwows and other social gatherings are coming back after a monthslong pandemic hiatus, StandingCloud wants her voice to be heard, too.

StandingCloud and others like Kwe Blomgren want powwow decision makers to know they are available to emcee, Indian Country Today reported.

“We have to start having women in these roles, so in our minds, we think, that definitely can be a woman, and it can be,” StandingCloud said. “Women are pretty funny, and some of the funniest people I met are female, so why the heck not?”

StandingCloud created a Facebook female powwow emcee group and has nearly a dozen members. She wanted aspiring female powwow emcees to have a space to connect. Blomgren is one of its members.

“Hearing their journeys of celebrations or mini gigs is really inspiring there,” Blomgren said about the group.

Blomgren, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, periodically posts on her Facebook page that she is a “powwow emcee for hire.” In August 2019, she posted a short Facebook video explaining why she wanted to emcee along with an example of her emcee style. The video was her way to let others know how serious she is.

In her post, she wrote: “I’m officially submitting my cowboy hat into the ring. (Aye.) Here is my mock (grand entry) run. I’m not the best or a pro but my heart is fully into this video. I worked hard on it and I’m super proud. I tell my girls to try, try, and fight for what they really want. So here is me fighting for my dream.”

The emcee, or master of ceremonies, tends to be a popular yet demanding gig, and most powwows have a two- or three-person rotation or more. The challenge for most emcees is keeping the crowd engaged and entertained while guiding dancers and singers through the hourslong celebration.

It’s also fun and worthwhile, StandingCloud said. Plus the many plates of food all the time, and the ability to come up with words and jokes on the fly, she said.

“I think the trick to being an emcee is reading the crowd and being in the moment,” she said. “A lot of the jokes come from improvising. I try to be present, being in the moment and appreciating the celebration itself, and a lot of teasing jokes will come out of that.”

She also likes to play off the energy of her co-hosts.

“Somebody ends on a perfect beat — I’ll go, ‘Hoo! There you have it, folks,’” she says in a deep voice, stretching out her words. “‘Powwow Saturday night live. We’re here!”

StandingCloud enjoys being social and was often found at powwows or events in the Twin Cities area before the pandemic. Her first emcee opportunity wasn’t planned. She was assisting an emcee a few years back at an area school powwow until it made more sense for her to be on the microphone. The following year, she was invited back to be the lead emcee.

Then came her big break. In mid-2019, organizers for Leech Lake Labor Day Powwow asked StandingCloud to co-emcee the celebration. StandingCloud said she was initially anxious about the invite. She was familiar with the powwow and knew it was one of the larger powwows in northern Minnesota.

“Inside, I was like, ‘OK, I have to do this because, first of all, nobody ever gets asked this,’’’ StandingCloud recalled. “I didn’t want to because I was nervous and I didn’t think I was really good enough, but whatever. I said yes.”

A few months after, she had another emcee gig at a Fond du Lac Band powwow near Lake Superior. Emceeing was getting easier, and StandingCloud was getting comfortable. Then the pandemic hit.

More recently, StandingCloud was the virtual emcee for the MN Connect Powwow and an in-person emcee at the Red Lake Nation College graduation and mini powwow.

“I’m just excited for COVID to be something that is behind us so we can all come back together and have a powwow,” StandingCloud said. “I miss the sounds, smells, sounds of bells, everything. It’s just a nostalgic feeling. It’s a very vivid experience for a lot of our people, and it’s one of the things that probably healed us as Native people.”

A few years ago during a Minnesota summer, Blomgren was enjoying a powwow on her Leech Lake homelands when her goal was to be in the emcee stand.

She came close. She emceed community events and gatherings.

After her Facebook video, Blomgren had a few local powwow emcee gigs lined up, but they were unfortunately canceled because of the pandemic.

“I’m definitely ready,” Blomgren said. “When the world is healthy, I’m ready”

Her confidence comes from positive feedback from her family and community, including from elders. Her dream is to one day emcee at the Gathering of Nations in New Mexico.

“I want lady emcees to be the norm, and I want us to start hearing us at celebrations and seeing us do big things.”