Powwow brings focus to Native American culture


Dancing to the drumming of a beating heart, Native American performers expressed thankfulness through dance at the 28th annual PowWow of Love at Jenison Field House on Saturday.

Members of the North American Indigenous Student Organization, or NAISO, and ASMSU hosted the event to foster an understanding and respect of the Native American culture on a diverse campus, said Marcus Winchester, a comparative cultures and politics senior and NAISO co-chair.

“The American Indian culture is a good example of one of those diverse cultures,” he said.

Matt Radick / The State News

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“It’s one of the most misrepresented and most misunderstood cultures in America, and it’s our own country.”

Planning for more than a year, NAISO members were able to host six dance troupes, 15 vendors and an attendance of about 1,500 people Saturday, said Caleb Artrip, a special education senior and NAISO co-chair.

The powwows rotate between traditional, which showcase traditional dances, such as the men’s grass dance and the women’s fancy shawl, to competition style, he said.

“The competition powwows came about through sponsoring the best of the dancers,” Artrip said. “(Sponsoring helps support) the dancers (financially) who have traveled really far, (making) sure they can make it back from where they are coming.”

Through advertising by word of mouth and with Facebook, the event brought dancers, vendors and participants from across the country to attend the event, said Elaina Leaureaux, an animal science and preveterinary junior and NAISO co-chair.

“It’s Natives from all over ­— from different tribes and nations,” she said. “There’s (tribes) ranging from Ojibwe to Apache, from Michigan to all the way over to New Mexico.”

This year’s powwow followed a traditional format, expressed in the dancing and the drum-circles songs that are hundreds of years old in their native languages, Artrip said.

Some of the songs are modern and lighthearted in meaning, while others represent honor or the preparation of warriors for battle, he said.

Each dance has its own meaning as well, such as the fancy shawl dance for women, which signifies the movement of a butterfly, and the women’s jingle dance, which signifies healing prayers for those in need, Leaureaux said.

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