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Ho-Chunk Eagle Feather Dance Staff

Eagle feather dance staff used at 1933 World's Fair by Ho-Chunk dancers from the Wisconsin Dells.
(Museum object #2001.49.1)

A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation (formerly known as the Winnebago) carried this feather staff, or flag, during performances at the 1933 World's Fair, A Century of Progress, in Chicago, Illinois. Traditionally, an honored member of the group leads dancers into the dance circle carrying such a staff. Under the direction of Phyllis Crandall Connor, Director of the Stand Rock Ceremonials at the Wisconsin Dells, the Ho-Chunk dancers performed ceremonials and dances in conjunction with four other Native American groups in the fair's "American Indian Villages" at the foot of a reproduction Mayan temple. Adult visitors paid 25 cents and children 15 cents to gain admission to the Indian Villages.

The year 1916 marked the beginning of what would later become the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial. At that time, a group of Native American dancers began performing on a beach near Stand Rock, in the Wisconsin Dells, for the entertainment of passengers on an evening river ride operated by the Dells Boat Company. Over time, the group became larger and the performances so successful that seats were placed on a hillside adjoining the beach, creating an amphitheatre that allowed organizers to charge a separate admission for the event. At one point, non-Native Americans also participated, portraying the arrival of Europeans Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. Connor took over the event's management in 1929 and returned it to an all Native American cast named the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial.

At A Century of Progress, the group performed the Swan Dance, which represents the movements of the sacred swan, and the Green Corn Dance, which offers thanks to spirits for a successful harvest. They also joined Sioux dancers in performing the War Dance, which formerly marked the departure or return of warriors from battle. However, it was billed in the event's program as a "dance of friendship". Native American groups performed several ceremonials and dances each day for the duration of the fair from June 1, 1933 to November 1, 1934.

A Century of Progress was one of a long line of world's fairs. The 1851 World's Fair held in London marked the beginning of large-scale international expositions. These fairs attempted to allow visitors to experience different cultures and new scientific discoveries. The fairs brought together nations from across the globe and made the firsthand experience available to anyone interested in attending. As both a cultural and a commercial event, the fairs have introduced many new advancements to the public. Inventions debuted at world's fairs include: the Colt revolver, the elevator, the sewing machine, the telephone, the gas-powered automobile, the Ferris wheel, Kodachrome photos, television, atomic energy, and the fax machine. While somewhat diminished from their former glory, fairs continue today.

[Sources: Program from Indian Dances and Ceremonials-American Indian Villages, A Century of Progress 1933 (WHS Archives, MSS 935, Box 51A); The Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial, Lois Musson Crandall Writings (WHS Archives, MSS 935, Box 51A);;; Roberts, Chris Powwow Country (Helena: World and Georgraphic Publishing, 1992).]

Posted on November 23, 2005

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