Annual USD Wacipi keeps traditions alive

A Rabbit Dance, in which men and women dance together, was held near the conclusion of the 41st annual USD Wacipi Sunday afternoon in the DakotaDome. To see or purchase images from this event, visit (Photo by David Lias)

A Rabbit Dance, in which men and women dance together, was held near the conclusion of the 41st annual USD Wacipi Sunday afternoon in the DakotaDome. To see or purchase images from this event, visit (Photo by David Lias)

By David Lias

Sunday evening, the drums became silent and dancers left the floor of the DakotaDome as the 41st annual USD Wacipi, held March 16-17, came to a close.

Presented by the Tiospaye Student Council, the Wacipi is a powwow featuring Native dancers, drummers as well as Tiospaye competitions, including Miss, Junior Miss and Little Miss USD Tiospaye.

Warren Peterson, a USD student from Lower Brule who currently serves as the Tiospaye Student Council president, said planning that began last year by past council members helped make this year’s event a success.

“The executive who took this powwow will start the planning work for the next one, and then the next exec will finish the planning of it,” Peterson said.

In other words, he was ultimately in charge of last weekend’s festivities.

“Things went as well as planned, and it wouldn’t have been as successful it if wasn’t for the previous execs laying down the groundwork to make it the event that it is,” Peterson said. “They made it big, and everybody was waiting for it to happen.

“I think we’ve had more vendors than we’ve ever had this year, and a lot of people thought we had more people participating this year, as well,” he said.

The theme of last weekend’s Wacipi was “Rising Above – Expectations for Generations.”

The 41st annual Wacipi is part of the 2013 “Realizing the Dream” Native Weekend at the University of South Dakota. Additional activities scheduled include the “We Stand Together” Diversity Symposium, the Native American Alumni Banquet, the 16th annual Building Bridges Conference and Native American Weekend Visit for High School Students.

Wacipi participants and planners are grateful to have the use of the DakotaDome last weekend.

“The Dome is definitely the best option,” Peterson said.

The Wacipi was open to anyone who wished to attend. Those not familiar with the customs of a powwow soon noticed different styles of dance taking place on the wooden basketball floor of the DakotaDome.

The men’s traditional dance symbolizes a battle or the story of a hunt. The men’s grass dance is said to have come from the past, when dancers were sent in first to stomp down long grass to make a clearing for the other dancers during a powwow.

Men’s fancy dancing became a traditional part of Wacipis in the late 1900s. Boys and young men, who wear brilliantly colored bustles and dance regalia, prefer this style.

The women’s traditional dance is simple in appearance, but plays a very important symbolic role. The dancers move their feet to the beat of the drum to represent the heartbeat of mother earth, to heal the world.

Many of the women and young girls wore jingle dresses. The small jingles that adorn their clothing, made of twisted tin, represent waves of water and thunder as they performed what is known as a healing dance.

It was impossible to not notice the female dancers who performed in the style commonly referred to as fancy. These dancers wore elaborately beaded dance regalia, covered by long, decorated, fringed shawls. These Wacipi participants made efforts to resemble butterflies, spreading out their shawl-covered arms as they spun in tiny circles on the DakotaDome floor.

The Wacipi is not only a tradition to the local Native American population. It is also becoming a way of life for many.

“There are a lot of people that make it almost a career to go to every Wacipi that they can, and do either drums or dance,” Peterson said. “If they are good enough at it, they can make a career out it.”

The Wacipi is also a time of fellowship and positive experiences for participants of all ages.

“It’s thrilling for some people to see all of the people together, and all of them supporting each other,” Peterson said. “There’s never a negative environment. And there’s some spiritual and traditional aspects of it as well.”

For more information about the Wacipi or Tiospaye Student Council at USD, please contact or visit

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