On Sunday, November 17th, BSU hosted the eleventh gathering of it’s annual powwow, organized by the university’s Native American Indigenous Studies Program. Derived from the Algonquin word for “medicine man,” which European settlers would use to address any gathering of natives, a powwow is “a social gathering, intertribal in nature, and open to non-natives” explains Professor Joyce Anderson, U.S. Ethnic and Indigenous Studies Coordinator. It also provides people with an opportunity to “see different styles of native singing and dancing.” “Being intertribal, a powwow draws members of indigenous tribes from all over the country, of which there are more than 600!” says Kerri Helm, one of the lead organizers of the powwow at BSU and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.
The powwow, which was held in the Kelly gymnasium, kicked off with an impressive opening dance circle performed by indigenous tribal members dressed in traditional native garbs, set to stirring performances by two indigenous drum circles. After the opening ceremony, the dance circle was opened up to any who wished to participate and prizes were given out to the winners of the “spot dance,” a dance wherein the person standing on the lucky winning spot when the music stopped got a prize. Along with the musical acts, the powwow drew many native vendors, all selling expertly made hand crafted indigenous crafts and apparel. “What people may not realize is that for many of these vendors, selling their crafts is their livelihood,” explained Professor Anderson. Professor Anderson says that one thing BSU students can take away from the powwow is an appreciation of the continuous presence of Native peoples here since before colonization and the Native American’s “survivance,” a term that has been adopted by indigenous peoples that combines “survival” and “resistance.” Also present at the powwow was team Red White and Blue, an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of veterans through the offering of activities such as marathons. Native Americans serve in the military in greater numbers than any other ethnic group, despite making up only 1.4% of the total population.
For any students at BSU who wish to learn more about Native American culture, you might be interested in the school’s Native American and Ethnic studies program. The program is currently a minor but Professor Anderson hopes to soon have it upgraded to a full major. The classes include topics such as native writing and rhetoric, treaties and their impact on Native populations, history both pre-contact and up through colonialism and into the modern age. “We’re trying to dispel the myth that Native Americans can never come into a modern space,” says Professor Anderson.
The curriculum also covers many of the modern struggles and triumphs that Native Americans go through on a day to day basis. This is done in part with guest speakers and films, such as Dawn Land, which shows the state of Maine’s practice of taking native children from their parents. Another goal of the curriculum is to show students what Native Americans are doing today and how they are impacting our modern society. There are currently two Native American members of congress, as well as numerous celebrities including actors and musicians with Native American heritage. Despite the societal progress and recognition that Native Americans have achieved in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Just this year, President Trump declared that November, in addition to being Native American Heritage Month, which was declared by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, would also serve as National American History and Founders Month, which many feel is a direct attempt to undermine the importance and recognition of Native American Heritage.