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Tribe celebrates Halloween with unique traditions

Stephen McLean | Staff Photographer The 2015 Halloween Haunt on the Hill was held at the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Reservation on Oct. 23, 2015.

While Halloween is a highly celebrated holiday, students may not think about other cultures and how the modern celebration can have an affect on them.

Hannahville junior Hannah Bartol is part of the Potawatomi tribe in her hometown. For her, Halloween is nothing to celebrate. Instead it’s a stab at a culture that she knows and loves. Rather than dressing up as a character or some costume, her family has a different way of celebrating the holiday.

“Some of the things my family celebrates at this time include something called a ‘Ghost Feast’,” Bartol said. “You make traditional foods and have a big feast with your family. You feed all the family members that have passed, so if I were to go home, I would have a big feast and we would offer food to my grandparents or other family members. There isn’t any dressing up in masks and dancing around a fire like it’s seen in movies. It’s more of a private thing you do with your family.”

Bartol also stressed that every tribe is different in how they celebrate the holidays. Michigan celebration can be very different from how someone would celebrate in California, Washington or Arizona.

“I don’t think dressing up (as a Native American) for Halloween is right,” Bartol said. “My culture is not a costume, or anyone’s culture for that matter. If the tables were turned, there would be a lot more criticism and spotlight on it. But since we’re a minority culture, they don’t care. I went to a Halloween store the other day and they called one of the costumes a ‘buckskin princess.’ That’s not okay.”

There are some things that are done on certain reservations to celebrate the holiday. In the Hannahville Potawatomi tribe, youth services puts on activities such as a potluck or feast. On the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Mount Pleasant, there are plenty of activities, including a “Trunk or Treat” for the children.

On Friday, Oct. 23 the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe held a special event for the kids and families at the Pow wow Campgrounds. The “Haunt on the Hill” included trick-or-treating, multiple costume contests, a haunted tunnel and fear factor.

“We’ve been doing Halloween celebrations like this for the last four to five years, but it’s fairly new,” said tribe member Alice Jo Ricketts. “My family doesn’t personally celebrate the holiday besides taking the kids trick-or-treating and helping out with events like these. I usually help coordinate it, but this year I got to do the ‘trunk or treat’ part of it.”

Trunks of cars were decorated for Halloween and children of all ages collected candy. Participants were asked to bring a bag of candy to donate. Everyone was dressed up as characters from movies, ghosts, ghouls and witches. Some of the trunks went all out, decorating with webs, spiders, orange lights and haystacks.

Tribal police officer Matt Gibson was the first trunk passing out candy when the kids entered the circle. It is his first year working for the reservation, but he was happy to be able to get out in the community and interact with everyone in attendance.

A fear factor event was full of themed eating competitions. The kids version consisted of three challenges: a bowl of worms with a skeleton hidden inside, two marshmallows covered in mustard to be eaten, and a bowl of crickets with an apple inside that had to be dug out with their mouths.

A haunted tunnel, featuring dark shadows and heavy fog, was a popular attraction. The tunnel has evolved over the years from a small attraction to a 60-foot tunnel that ended near the edge of the woods.

Receptionist for housing staff and tribe member Betsy Weekley worked the door of the tunnel and her family helped by volunteering as scarers.

“It’s really neat to see families come out and spend time together,” Weekley said. “We welcome everyone and we stand behind our community. Haunt on the Hill is really neat because we have different levels of events for different age groups so everyone can be involved. The tribe is really about community.”

Youth LEAD Organized Sports Specialist and tribe member Luke Sprague said while celebrating culture around Halloween time is important, tribe members also participate in the more commercial aspects of the holiday as well.

“We celebrate Halloween just like any non-Native American culture, nothing is really different,” Sprague said. “We usually go uptown and trick-or-treat in the suburbs because there isn’t a whole lot of it on the reservation anymore on actual Halloween. Overall, there isn’t anything special we do besides the Haunt on the Hill, but it’s all about the kids and if they’re having a blast out there.”