Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the 2020 Indiana University annual powwow, hosted by First Nations Educational & Cultural Center, was canceled. However, the powwow will be making a triumphant return in a virtual format.
“I’m really excited that we’re still able to put together a powwow this year, even if it’s virtual,” Nicky Belle, director of the FNECC, said. “The powwow is something that the FNECC staff and Powwow Committee look forward to all year long. It was a real letdown that we had to cancel the dance last year. We told our head staff – the singing groups and the dancers – that we would bring them back in person for the 2021 powwow. So when we realized that hosting an in-person powwow wasn’t going to be an option again, we had to get creative!”
Virtual powwows have grown in popularity since the lockdown began. Facebook pages such as Social Distance Powwow and Quarantine Dance Specials 2020 have become meeting grounds for those searching for connections. Their mission “to foster a space for community and cultural preservation, to retain cultural knowledge through indigenous songs, dance, and arts” has become crucial during this time.
Juaquin Hamilton, the Sac and Fox Nation historical researcher and Master of Ceremonies for IU’s virtual powwow, has participated in over a hundred virtual powwows since lockdown began.
“It’s so different,” Hamilton said regarding transitioning from in-person to virtual powwows. “Anytime you do something new, you’re nervous, but after you do it a few times, you get used to it. And I was doing a virtual powwow or dance competition every night at one point.”
All of these powwows were a unique experience with different dancers, singers, and committee members. Hamilton notes that while virtual powwows may not be for everyone, they are a wonderful experience and connect those missing the energy and community that powwows provide.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Hamilton said. “To see music and dancers do their thing. It keeps spirits up, especially the elders who can’t travel because of the pandemic.”
Hamilton also noted the importance of IU’s virtual powwow. “I am so thankful to Nicky and the Powwow Committee for making this happen and keeping people connected during this time by giving something they can look forward to.”
IU’s Virtual Powwow will feature videos of various dancers and singers from across the country spliced into a single video available on the FNECC’s website.
“This year’s Ninth Annual Traditional Powwow is going to look different than previous years,” Belle said. “But for the Powwow Committee and the head staff, we’re all just so excited that we get to work together and plan together and feel that same sense of community that everyone feels each year we host the powwow at IUB. Our collective fingers are crossed that this time next year, we’ll be getting ready for the powwow on campus again.”