Law School hosts annual Fall Feast events for students, community

by Tracey Nelson

Rich aromas from stew and fry bread, traditional Native American fare, filled the room as students apprehensively filed in and mingled with elders and attorneys from the Native American community.
Students and other members of the community at the annual Fall Feast showed respect for and interest in each others’ cultures and beliefs.
The annual Fall Feast was held at the Law School on Thursday in honor of the changing seasons. The feast has the purpose of giving thanks for making it through the seasons and is a preparation for the blustery winter.
The wojape — blueberry pudding — was a little runny due to a miscalculation with the corn starch. Ojibwa elder Jim Clairmount and Angela Hall, American Indian Law Student Association president and hostess for the feast, chatted about the dish.
“Your wojape needs more starch,” said a laughing Clairmount.
Hall, feigning offense, replied, “I don’t write down how much I put in.”
Students found the feast an inviting learning experience.
“It was a welcoming experience and in a short period of time I was able to learn a snippet of Native American culture,” said law student Cheree Haswell. “And the food was excellent.”
Despite the lack of corn starch, attendees found the wojape tasty, as evidenced by the number of empty blueberry-stained Styrofoam coffee cups strewn throughout the room.
The Fall Feast is one manner in which the indigenous people prepare for the winter.
“The tree goes to sleep for the winter,” Clairmount explained. “That is how the Creator made it, everything runs in a circle and we have to respect that. Just like birds fly south for the winter, people go down to Florida. We make preparations for winter just like the animals do.”
The feast has the positive side effect of “raising awareness of the culture, keeping Native American attorneys active in the school and makes students aware of the Native American legal community,” said AILSA member Shannon Phillips.
Hall said this year’s feast was a “great success. I enjoy sharing this piece of culture with the law school students.”
“It’s great that the school provides a forum to voices of the community to engage in cultural expressions,” said third-year law student Ben Felcher. “Students benefit from this.”
Clairmount, waving a sacred eagle wing, began the feast with a prayer in the Ojibwa language.
The students bowed their heads in respect. Clairmount stopped intermittently to explain what he was saying.
The prayer asked for the Creator to bless the food so the students gain strength, both mental and physical, by eating the blessed food. This strength is to help them through the tough winter.
Obtaining and retaining the eagle wing is a great honor and requires strict adherence to certain guidelines. The recipient must be an “honest man,” says Clairmont. He must abstain from alcohol, adultery, foul language and he must pray for those who turn against him.
After Clairmount’s prayer, a Native American teacher and several elementary school students offered a song through high-pitched, chant-like singing and beating on a drum.
After the chant, food was offered and the children crossed cultural lines as they enjoyed the fry bread.
Toward the end of the meal Hall requested everyone stand up and dance in a circle.
“Rhythm is not required,” she said.

Tracey Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]