On Friday Nov.11, there was a momentous gathering of Native Americans. From very young children to the respected elders, people from many different tribes came together to keep an important aspect of their heritage alive.
The grand finale of UVU’s Global Engagement week was the 8th Annual Native American Powwow, sponsored by the Native Sun Club and the Multicultural Center. The powwow, held in the Grande Ballroom, began with the resounding rhythm of tribal drumbeats. The powwow continued throughout the next day, until the Award Ceremonies late Saturday evening.
Beginning with a blessing at 6p.m. on Friday, the Grande Ballroom became the sacred Arena for the powwow. The Arena is considered a holy place from the time of the blessing until the powwow is over.
The event was a celebration, a dance contest, and a time for American Indians to commune and show off their most fancy traditional clothing and dancing skills. It also served as an opportunity for Natives to gather together, renew time-honored traditions, and affirm their cultural identities.
“This is our way of life; our tradition,” said Jacob Crane, co-arena director and organizer of the event. “It is universal and it unites us.”
The arena was thriving with energy. The flurry of vibrant color, the whirling of fringe, the glitter of beaded embroidered tribal emblems, and the jingle of bells and cones adorned their attire. The extravagant garments and accessories are called regalia. It is always hand-made and generally passed down from family members. Each one was unique. Some of these exquisitely dressed dancers were ornamented with so many feathers, they looked as though they were about to take flight.
Large round drums made of buffalo hide, booming as if they were the heartbeat of the Arena, provided the songs. Groups of about eight people sat in a circle around each drum, creating the beat with drumsticks and singing. A different song characterized each of the dance categories. Both the songs and the dances ranged from hypnotic to invigorating, but all were performed with a spirit of honor and respect. A strong, stirring feeling was evoked that night in the Ballroom that transcended time and place. The spirit and pride of the Natives resonated in the atmosphere, and those who were listening could hear it thumping in their soul like a drumbeat; and feel lightness in their heart like the golden eagle feather, which adorned so many regalia. If a golden eagle feather were to fall to the floor, the audience was told not to touch it, as its sacred status requires specific handling.
Because the event was held on Veteran’s Day, the national anthem was sang, and U.S. veterans were given gifts of sweet grass to help them carry on with strength, and a coin given “in the spirit of love” in honor of their sacrifices to our country.
All proceeds from the event went to establish a scholarship for Native American Students at UVU. The Native Sun Club aims to support the few hundred Native students of UVU. The club advisor, Ken Sekaquaptewa tries to help them adjust and feel comfortable as students, to experience engaged learning and have a safe experience. The powwow helps them maintain their cultural heritage while gaining a traditional education.
“The event is to educate the public as well; to educate students here at UVU about the Native Americans and their traditions and cultures, as they were the first people to settle this great land,” said Ben Reichart, the Multicultural Chair of UVUSA. “It’s also to help them understand the spiritual implications of why they do what they do.”
Many Natives traveled a long way to attend the powwow, but there was a blatantly obvious absence of non-Native UVU students in attendance. According to Reichart, one of the goals of The Multicultural Center provides the Native students opportunities to teach the rest of the students about their heritage. It is a worthy goal, and events such as the powwow bring the school one step closer to appreciating its diversity.
By Lindsey Nelson – Staff Writer
Photos by Gilbert Cisneros