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Coming Home Laughing: My name is Boye Ladd

Windspeaker.com Archives

Late 1990s

One of the most respected powwow men in North America paid Buffalo Spirit a surprise visit. Boye Ladd is preparing to move back to the United States after 25 years of living in Canada. He said he wanted to leave behind a few ideas for people to think about until he sees us again.

He left us with a lot of material that we will use over the coming year. For now, however, here is a part of his message.

My name was given to me by one of my uncles that went off to World War II. When we name our children, it's usually something they remember from war. When our warriors are called upon, it's usually something that stood out in front of them single-most in war situation.

My uncle was a medic and one time he got caught by the Japanese and he played dead. Everybody was wiped out and he played dead. They walked over him… And when he was coming home all he could think about was that situation, these Japanese walked over him, and he laughed. He made it through…

So all the way home from the war he kept laughing and laughing. So that's how I got my Indian name Coming Home Laughing. What's ironic, my real father, his name is Fun Maker. He is the head of the Bear Clan.

And my Indian name, in everything that I do, everybody knows that I have a lot of laughter, humor. I become a kind of a clown all the time. Laughter in my eyes has always been good medicine. It brings people together. I can't always be serious. Even in our most sacred of all ceremonies there is always an element of clown. You go to the kivas, you go to our Sundances, you go to our Medewin, you go to all the ceremonies, there is always a clown element.

Or there is a clan that has that responsibility to bring laughter. I guess that is part of my responsibility is to create laughter, but there is a time of always being serious. I always tried to be serious when it comes to ceremony. There is a time and place for it…

It's been an honor in coming to Canada and being here for the last 25 years or so, and being accepted into a lot of the societies and a lot of the communities working for our people. I'm going to be moving back to the U.S. I have moved in part and will be fully moving back to the U.S., but in part, I kind of wanted to leave a lot of good messages and good feelings for a lot of the people and a lot of the friends I have made across the country…

I've been in powwow all of my life. I started dancing when I was four years old back in 1952, and it's opened many, many doors for me. I've traveled to many countries. It's given me an education, given me an opportunity to meet many, many people…

There are many misconceptions around the country when we look at our traditions, our customs and powwows. Many times I've been asked, what is the right way of doing something? I oftentimes have to respond by saying 'Your way.' There is no right way and there is no wrong way. There is only your way of believing and it would be wrong for me to condemn…

But there are certain unwritten rules and laws that govern our circles around the country. I've lived in just about every part of the United States and most of Canada, except a lot of B.C. and way out in the Maritimes, but in the majority of Indian Country… I've credited Canada with the spirit of dance, the spirit of tradition.

I tell many of my Canadian friends, many of my students, 'Why do you want to go dance down in the United States, because if you go to that powwow, all they are doing is imitating the music in Canada.’

The best music comes from our region of Alberta and Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Those are the best singers in the world. Why do you want to go to another powwow? Sure they may have money down there, but it's so commercial. There is no spirit.'

The music is always changing—the beauty, the songs…  I've been very lucky. I have been in those regions where the change has been happening. I've seen it in the round dance world where I see influences by certain individuals, the legends in their circle, and I encourage many people from the United States or different parts of the country, North America, to come to this part of the country to see round dance… to see the spirit, the beauty of the song, the beat. It does something to you.

Drum is wakan, holy. You know, in powwow, the drum has always brought our people together… It brings unity to our people. Years ago, many of our tribes were at war. Even within our lifetime, there was a lot of animosity that existed between our peoples. But now today, the advent of powwow has brought a unity where people are sitting together at the same drum, singing the same songs. Being able to feel the same beat.

That drum is so vital, so very important to our people… The drum beat becomes a part of our body… It didn't happen until the early 1980s that there were heart attacks, people dying on the dance floor. And I have to say that it came from the drum beat. The drums are wakan. They are holy. They become a part of us.

When you are drumming, when you are a dancer out there listening to the drum beat, your heart skips a beat and jumps in time with the drum beat. And so your heart and drum is the same. So when somebody is drumming along with the beat and all at once, a beginner maybe, somebody just started in singing, comes in with a downbeat and he comes in the off beat, what happens is your heart skips a beat…

 So it can, yes, it can cause heart attacks. It can hurt people. Thus, you say drums are wakan. They are holy. You have to be very respectful, very careful.

Along the same line, I've been approached on some of the most troublesome areas when we look at drums. One of the issues that I have been asked many times, especially within the last year-and-a-half, is women singing on the drum. It's very hard to answer that because I'm going to be condemned by half of the people and the other ones will support me and say, 'You're right, Boye. You're right…’

In Minnesota, an all-women's group showed up at the powwow and were denied setting up their drum and singing, and they took it to court. And right away, everyone around the country was calling me and asking me, 'Boye, what's your position on it?'

And I say, one side of me—tradition—dictates that women do not sing on drum. In my community you have to be very, very respectful. I oftentimes say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Sioux country, do as the Sioux do. And in Winnibago, or Ho-Chunk country, do as we do. We do not allow that…

Out of respect, when you go to other lands, be very careful of their rights and their way of life. Don't come in there because you think you have the right in your community and try to impose that on somebody else's community, because that's very, very disrespectful …

In my community, women are not allowed to touch the drums, the drum sticks, anything man, a rifle, even tools on the floor. Many times a mother sweeping the floor sees a tool there will ask one of the young boys to move that and that's how much respect we have for our women.

It's not putting down the women. It's putting them on a pedestal, because women have the ability to create life, and are very humble in their teachings and their ways. In our way of life, everything balances out. They may not be the so-called leaders or speakers of the people, or maybe the singers, but in a round-about way it is balanced, so that women actually have more power than men.

It varies from one community to the other. Some people will accept it [women at the drum]. Historically, some say women are allowed at our drums. The first time that I encountered that was when I went to the northwest. I was up in Yakama and Coleville… Historically, a lot of the men were out fighting and hunting and the women naturally absorbed the position or the role of the men and women naturally became a part of the singing groups.

And I have seen some very good singers, but again, that works in their community. So those that do want to sing, I often say, be very respectful, very careful of customs within that region that you go to…

Again there are certain unwritten rules and laws that govern everything that we do. A lot of it has always evolved around the warriors…

Thus we call the origin of powwow today, the beginning of powwow, when many of our men, many of our warriors went off they would be given certain medicines, certain protections, and they would go off to war and hopefully that thing would bring them home. Most times it did…

When they came home, there were celebrations, there were victories, there was powwow songs made. The dance steps were created to imitate what they saw in battle. The songs would always talk about the love of life.

A true warrior will never say 'I kill.' They never use that word. They would always say 'coup,' or 'touch the enemy…' If you were able to go and touch the enemy, that was bravery. You earned the right to wear eagle feathers, wear paint, wear certain designs.

Today, everything has become so generic. People are stealing from one another without ever knowing what the rights are involved in it.

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