Article by Parker Sterling as it appears in the Bottom Line News & Views Volume 12 Issue 8
Photos published with permission by the Photographer
When Native American dancer and singer Delwin Fiddler performs, the wind circles about him and lifts his colorful feathers and carries the breath and energy of the moment deep into the audience. He offers his prayers and honor songs to all in attendance, and the beauty is present and palpable. When asked why his tributes to his ancestral roots through the songs and dances that have been passed down to him are important, he offers, “The heartbeat is very important to the people because without the heartbeat you cannot be in the rhythm of life.” Fiddler adds that the songs and dances are needed and necessary “...to encourage other people to come back to the way of life of the ancestors, of our elders and to listen to the songs and dances of the ways of our ancestors”.
(Delwin Fiddler, Jr. performing a traditional dance at the Red Cliff Giveaway)
(Left to Right: Elise Stone, Delwin Fiddler and Bryan Bainbridge, CEO ofthe Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, meet to discuss future relations with PAZA, Tree of Life)
Delwin Fiddler, Jr., is the Founder and Executive Director of PAZA Tree of Life, a national inter-tribal organization traveling with a message of hope and love to tribal nations across the US, tribes like Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe near Bayfield, WI, where he visited December 5th through the 8th to meet with tribal members, offer songs and cultural dances, and to present gifts for the youth and elders of Red Cliff and Bad River tribes in a giveaway on December 6th at Legendary Waters Resort and Casino in Red Cliff.
“I founded PAZA to help the people of all nations to come together to find a place back into the roots of the tree of their way of life and traditions and to help each other until we bring back the foundation of who we are,” Fiddler states. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Sans Arc Band of the Great Sioux Nation who grew up in Green Grass, SD, Fiddler continues, “PAZA means tree in Lakota. PAZA Tree of Life was created to help people and to sustain the foundation for all people so we can all come together.”
Fiddler has the distinction of having performed for two American presidents and the Royal Family in England. His grass dance, which he performed at the giveaway on Tuesday, December 6th at Legendary Waters, has been recognized as a national cultural treasure and is presented in a continuous loop at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.
The oldest son of seven children, Fiddler spent some of his earliest years in the Indian Boarding School system until he found his way back to his cultural roots with the help of family members who kept their tribal culture and traditions alive. Ultimately, Fiddler became a champion Grass Dancer on the Pow Wow circuit until his life’s journey and talent took him to Pennsylvania and the Native Nation Dance Theater in Philadelphia.
In 2019, Fiddler teamed up with Maria Ragonese. They brought their enormous humanitarian experiences and talents to the fore and created PAZA Tree of Life. Of their spiritual and foundational co-creation, Ragonese offers “We follow the prophecies of the warriors who came before us. Crazy Horse said, people of all colors, led by our Native brothers and sisters, would someday dance around theTree of Life. That's what PAZA is, the representation of One Life, One Voice, One People as we return to the roots of the tree of life which connects us all.”
“I am honored to come here and share my culture and my traditions…” Fiddler states, “...and to do something and listen to the people and do what we can, what we call a giveaway, in a small way to show a gesture of love and appreciation of all human beings…so we can all come together and share our appreciation for each other as a family because that’s what we are.”
Before traveling to the Red Cliff Reservation, Fiddler drove from eastern Pennsylvania to Sisseton, SD, to offer prayer songs and gifts for the tribal elders and youth there. He notes that Sissteton and Red Cliff are two different tribes and areas, but “the need is everywhere.”
(Redcliff Giveaway at the Legendary Waters Hotel & Casino)
Fiddler’s drive from Sisseton to Red Cliff fell on the weekend of our first real snow storm in the Upper Midwest with gale-force winds, heavy wet snow, and frigid temperatures along the way, but he was grateful to make the journey safely to Red Cliff to be able to offer new blankets, socks, gift boxes, and much more to the elders, youth, and parents who came out. And many left the six-hour giveaway, graciously co-organized by Julie Gordon and the Red Cliff Tribe, feeling blessed and grateful.
Fiddler, whose Lakota name is Hehakapa Mahto (Elk Bear), is the Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe and a travelling messenger of hope for all native nations and all people. When asked if he would be returning to the Chequamegon Bay area, Fiddler smiled, “I would be honored to come back, and this time I’m jumping in the water.”
Fiddler is grateful to the Red Cliff and Sisseton tribes for their hospitality and warm welcome. Before getting on the road back to Pennsylvania, Fiddler offered a blessing in parting, “I encourage everyone in a good way to love yourself and appreciate yourself, appreciate your people, appreciate your history.”
We hope to have to again welcome the gift and blessing of Delwin Fiddler and PAZA Tree of Life back to our area (and in the water of our beautiful Gitchi Gummi) soon.