On April 6, Indiana University brought communities from across the country together as it celebrated the 8th annual Traditional Powwow in Dunn Meadow. With a full day of Native American song, dance, crafts and performances, the Powwow featured highlights such as the Grand Entry, the Exhibition, Intertribal Dancing and a dance by Indy Hula. Supported by The Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, the event was hosted by the First Nations Educational & Cultural Center (FNECC) and was supported by multiple campus-wide and local partnerships.
On the day of the Powwow, performers and spectators alike gathered around the sunny field to celebrate contemporary Native American tribal identities. James Wimbush, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, dean of The University Graduate School and Johnson Chair for Diversity and Leadership, delivered the opening remarks by thanking the indigenous communities in attendance.
“I would like to begin by acknowledging the indigenous communities native to this region by recognizing that Indiana University was built on indigenous land, causing the forced removal of these people. I would also like to acknowledge the Miami, Delaware, and Potawatomi people as past, present, and future caretakers of this land,” Wimbush said. “In addition, I would like to thank the many people involved in making this event such a success. I would like to recognize today’s head staff, participants, and dancers, many of whom traveled from tribal communities removed from Indiana. Thank you for being here, and welcome home.”
The Powwow, according to the FNECC’s website, evolved from historical ceremonial society dances to modern intertribal gatherings and “celebrations of culture, dance, song, crafts, food and pageantry.” During the event, Powwow etiquette included respecting elders at all times and not touching dancers’ regalia or jewelry. The set of guidelines maintained an atmosphere of respect and admiration for the traditions of the Powwow.
As the dancers walked around in colorful clothing representing the aesthetic significance of Native American cultural traditions, many in the audience were engaged in anticipation for the performances. One such spectator was Lauren Ehrmann, an IU Bloomington junior majoring in Art History, who noted the sense of connection present at the Powwow.
“It’s been really cool to see [the performers] preparing and going from beanies and sweatshirts to the garments that they’re going to dress in,” Ehrmann said. “I’ve seen people greet each other and help each other prepare and fix each other’s clothes. It’s really cool to see that there is this strong sense of unity and community.”
For the afternoon dance session, the program was composed of the Grand Entry, Exhibition and Intertribal Dancing and the Grass Dance Special. As dancers entered the arena in order for the Grand Entry, the Head Man and Woman of the Powwow were highlighted. The Head Man of the Powwow was Buck Spotted Tail, of the Burnt Thigh Nation from Rosebud, South Dakota, and Maia Spotted Tail of the Saginaw Band of Ojibwe from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, served as the Head Woman. Maia Spotted Tail described the significance of the specific dress she was wearing before her performance.
“As a medicine dress, it’s used for healing when people are sick,” she said. “They’ll offer protection to those who are sick.”
Later on, during intertribal dancing, spectators were asked to join in the dancing by the emcee of the day, Isaiah Stewart of the Lakota and Mohawk tribes from Lawrence, Kansas. Many members of the audience came into the arena, and those who were inspired danced alongside the performers.
All around the arena, the Powwow carried personal significance, as people met up with old friends while also making new ones. Heather Williams, departmental secretary at the FNECC, described how the Powwow highlighted the future and continuing presence of contemporary Native American narratives.
“Speaking to invisibility and erasure, too often Native people are thought of as historical figures: people of the past, relics, museum artifacts, or textbook, distant beings. Maybe they don’t exist anymore, maybe they’re shut off on a reservation. But that’s not true, and the Powwow proves that,” she stated. “We’re all contemporary and love our culture and love to celebrate each other and be with each other, which is why we gather and dance in Powwow. I think it’s a testament to our continuation as a people.”
Two members of the Powwow Committee expressed what the Powwow meant to them. Caleb King, a sophomore studying neuroscience of the Seldovia Village Tribe, echoed the need for a change in narrative, while emphasizing the importance of the work by the FNECC.
“The narrative is slowly, and should be, switching from history to now. History is important, but what is more important and even more helpful, is to understand what Native people are doing today, which is a big initiative of the First Nations center. [FNECC] Director Nicky Belle and Williams work very hard to make sure people know what Native people are doing today and the needs of communities now, rather than just the history of being colonized and moved and killed.” King said.
Briana Albini, a first-year MSES/MPA student of the Coast Miwok people, described how it was crucial that events like the Powwow happened on campus.
“I think the fact that all of these tribes get to dance and get to do drum is so significant, just to revitalize and bring awareness that there is a full culture. I just think it’s so important that we’re bringing that back.” Albini said.
Belle expressed how it was especially rewarding to see the Powwow become a starting point for the future of indigenous students.
“There’s one young man dancing today whose grandfather has been our emcee before. When you have families coming back who come with their kids who also want to tour Indiana University while they’re here, that’s the sort of the thing [that’s rewarding]. It’s the families, it’s the communities, it’s people coming back and hearing about what we do,” Belle said.