Yotahalahkwatasé Flores, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, took to the sidewalks of Milwaukee to dance away the emotional “sickness” caused by coronavirus. The video he posted has been viewed by thousands of people looking for a positive message amidst the trauma and fear. It’s part of a social distance powwow trend, as Native Americans from throughout the country post videos.
Yotahalahkwatasé is his Oneida name; the Milwaukee man also goes by the name James Flores. He works as the scholarship coordinator for the Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, and he’s a first-generation college graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he graduated with a degree in American Indian Studies, with a certificate in cultures and communities. He’s also started graduate school in public history, and he’s a father and expectant father. He’s spent time working on an organic farm on the Oneida reservation. In short, he’s a person who has always been concerned about community.
Here’s his video:
In the video, he says:
We’re facing a lot of uncertainty. There’s things happening around us that we haven’t faced before…we’ve got to calm ourselves and remember that we are spiritual people. And that these ways, this dancing, and this way of life is something that will continue to be a strength, a source of resilience for us. Right now, it’s a time that we have to set the tone, have to set an example, for the future, for our younger generation. They’re watching us right now. Seeing what we’re doing, seeing how we act and conduct ourselves. We need to carry ourselves in the way that our ancestors did during times of uncertainty. When things were collapsing all around them, they remained steadfast and strong, and that’s what we need to do. Right now I want to share this dance with you, and we’re going to dance this sickness away. Dancing is a prayer. I wanted to share this with everyone because they’re sharing their dancing from all over Indian Country.
In an interview with Heavy.com, Flores gave more details. “I am a woodland dancer, that’s a specific category of powwow dances,” he explained, of his decision to do the dance. He said there is a Facebook page and concept called “social distance powwows” where indigenous people around the United States have been posting similar videos because a lot of powwows have been canceled due to coronavirus prohibitions on large gatherings.
He started making the video to contribute to the social distance powwow trend, but then, “I just started talking before I started dancing. It kind of came out that way. To just put that in context, that sickness I was talking about was really the emotional state everyone’s experiencing from this epidemic, anxiety, fear, depression, aloneness from the circumstances we’re all in.”
You can see more social distancing powwow videos here. The Facebook page “social distance powwow” reads, “This group is an online powwow! Let’s Powwow everybody Powwow! Many vendors, dancers, singers have been horribly affected by this virus shutdown. This forum is for all to share their creator given talents and be supported. Let’s all spread love and positivity!!!”
You can see other social distancing powwow videos throughout this article.
Here’s what you need to know:
Flores Says Art, Culture & Dance Make Us Who We Are
Similar to the videos of Italians singing opera from the balconies of apartments they can’t leave, Flores said that dancing can help us during this epidemic.
“Dancing will make you feel better,” said Flores. “Watching people dance to make a person feel better … dance the sickness away, that sickness is really that emotional state.” He said he hoped that people watching his video “find reassurance, reaffirmation that everything is going to be all right, that we will get through this.”
He pointed out how important it is “just to have respect and kindness for one another but to also be safe and cautious but not act out of a state of fear. That we remain calm. That we are making decisions that reflect the character of who we are. That we are coming together as a community regardless of all these other issues that are going on, that we can still be supportive of one another. We’re all in this together, and it’s sort of how we’re going to come out of it, by coming together a little bit, being concerned for one another’s safety.”
Flores said that the dance and regalia “come from the Iroquois people. The song I was dancing to was a powwow song, woodland style song.” He said it was a “pan Indian” type of song that you would hear at a powwow in the woodland category. He used a recording from the Oneida powwow by the Smokey Town drum group. Flores said his mother is Oneida and his father is Mexican. He is an enrolled member of the tribe who is 33 years old and lives in Milwaukee.
“I had no idea it was going to blow up the way it did, for it to go viral,” he said of the dance video. “People said they felt better from seeing me dance or from the message I had. Music, culture, dance, they are fundamentally who we are. As humans, we’re just sharing.”
People put positive responses on his Facebook page. “Thank you. My anxiety was climbing. Your words and your dance have calmed me thank you,” wrote one.