For eight years, the Native American community of Utah and those who appreciate their vibrant heritage look forward to the Native American Powwow in November, which is Native American Heritage Month.
This year, however, those involved in the powwow discovered that the university has failed to recognize the powwow’s importance to the community.
The powwow has been located in the ballroom of the student center for eight years. The room allows numerous people to attend and the hardwood floors are perfect for traditional Native American dance performances.
“What else is expected from a predominantly white campus?”
Dancers come from all over the Rocky Mountain West, excited to participate in a festival of cultural recognition and revival of identity.
As students and staff sought out details for the powwow, they found that the ballroom would not be available during the most important time of year for all Native Americans.
According to advisor Moana Havea-Angilau, in May the Multicultural Center sent in its requests to student government. “They’ve been very good in scheduling us for the past five to ten years,” she said, “so I assumed things would go smoothly again this year.”
According to Havea-Angilau, the Multicultural Center was told they’ve been inconsistent with their dates and therefore was told to figure things out on their own this year. By this time, however, it was too late to secure the student ballroom.
A look at the November weekends on the online student calendar indicates there is one Friday volleyball game and, other than that, an all month event at the Woodbury Art Museum. From this calendar, it’s unclear what is booked in the ballroom all month long, but no one is giving students straight answers.
Instead, they’ve been referred to the physical education building’s gymnasium. Hopefully, negotiations to secure this space will go well, but accommodations will be necessary.
In the gymnasium, a mat must be laid out for any non-athletic events. The dancers do, however, require hardwood for the recreation of stomping, beat and rhythm that are strong components of their culture.
Havea-Angilau mentions the personal assistance from Student Body President Richard Portwood. “I love the students in student government,” she said, but feels concerned that not even these students can be allowed to support all students.
“Student government gives me their schedule for the academic year by June 1 and then it is open to on-campus departments and then off-campus institutions. After that, it is first come first serve,” said Leslie Farnsworth, administrative scheduler of the Student Center.
“Native American students pay student fees, they are no different from other students,” said Sekaquaptewa, who is of Hopi Indian descent. “One would think that our students would have equal access to the Student Center’s ballroom to express their culture for a night or two in November.”
The potential blame for miscommunication between those charged with scheduling the event is irrelevant. It does not change the fact that a community who struggles for representation will be negatively affected and unable to adequately honor their traditions.
The university should be on its way to bridge cultural divides with understanding and tolerance in mind. With the presence of President Holland, perhaps we are on that path, but moments like these vividly show that we often fall back a step or two and sometimes we stumble down the entire staircase.
“What else is expected from a predominantly white campus?” said Billie Atisty, president of the club.
Students and faculty at the Multicultural Center have been guarded about discussing the issue too openly – the atmosphere is that apprehensive. Billie Atisty is correct when she says that this is a tragic, culturally insensitive campus situation.