The lights are dim, vibrant colors all around, while drumbeats fill the air. The hum of chatter and laughter can be heard throughout the room. “Things like this, having powwows, helps people to go back to their roots, to want to discover where they came from,” Billie Atsitty, vice president of the Native Sun Club, said.
Smells of fried bread greet those who pass the food booths. The debate continues on whether the tacos are called Navajo tacos or Indian tacos. “Fried bread is known as one of the great foods that Native Americans have come up with. We Native Americans had to live with what the U.S. government gave us,” said Astistty.
Invited by the Native Sun Club, multicultural services, and with some funding from UVUSA, people from all over North America gathered together last Saturday for a powwow in the grand ballroom. “It was bigger than last year. We are running out of room in the ballroom,” Ken Sekaquaptewa of multicultural services said. There were an estimated 500 spectators, 100 dancers, and 50 volunteers in attendance at this year’s UVU powwow.
Socially and traditionally, powwows are an important part of maintaining Native American culture. “We fulfill something. We are a socially oriented people. We replenish ourselves and go out to participate in the dominant society when we intermingle with each other,” said Winston Mason, spiritual leader of the powwow.
Teaching the youth is an important part of the powwows, so that they can “maintain the culture as long as we can,” Mason says. “We encourage our young people to participate to be there when we have powwows because these events are totally alcohol- and drug-free.”
Atsitty said, “It helps us because this is who we are. We come to meet old friends and new people. These social events remind us of our great heritage. The eagle feather especially is important to our culture and traditions.”
While these events tend to bring a more social atmosphere, traditions are still upheld. As spiritual leader of the powwow, Mason is responsible for maintaining the traditions. “I make sure everything is done according to protocol and tradition,” he said. Mason described one of his many responsibilities as the spiritual leader by saying, “We consider the eagle feather sacred. If a feather is dropped, it is my job to bless it so it can go back to the dancer.”
Although not all tribes have traditionally held powwows, they have become a way for tribal nations to get together. “Powwows were more of an eastern tribal tradition that Navajos weren’t a part of, but now all participate,” Chris Fowler, president of the Native Sun Club said. This creates opportunities for “pan tribes” to gather from all over the country. The blending of cultures is a realistic and important part of these traditions. “When I talk to young people, I tell them they can be so much richer to know and experience their native culture. Take that with the dominant culture and combine the best of both worlds,” Mason said.
Today modified versions of traditional dances are performed. Charles Denny, two-time world hoop dance champion, who was asked to be the Head Man Dancer, performed a grass dance and participated in the group dances. “I am honored to have them ask me to be the Head Man Dancer,” Denny said. “I try to stay culturally active. I go to different types of ceremonies. I try to do as much as I can.”
The influences of these types of events are far reaching. “From what I notice, people love native culture. If they see people like us with an ancient culture still thriving today, it will help them want to know their heritage and where they come from,” Asitty said.
The powwow also helped the Native Sun Club fulfill their purpose by encouraging involvement. “We try to get people to help native people from reservations feel at home and (to provide) education to help people who are not native to learn about our culture and religion,” Atsitty said. Fowler agreed, saying that the Native Sun Club “gives natives opportunities to have a place to call home, to have a family off the reservation. We give the whole student body a glimpse of our culture. I hope their influence gives them understanding of who we are and where we come from.”
Native Sun Club
Advisor: Ken Sekaquaptewa Multicultural Services