United at the powwow

Teminah Greene, a member of the Nez Perce from Lepwai, Idaho, performs a “chicken-style” dance solo during the winter Powwow. Photo by Lucas Anderson

For some students, quarterly powwows are their only chance to see their Native American relatives during the school year.

The heavy sound of drum beats could be heard inside the Indian Heritage High School gymnasium in North Seattle where a crowd gathered to celebrate Native American culture in a traditional powwow hosted by the ASUW’s American Indian Student Commission (AISC).

Brittany Barrett, director of the ASUW American Indian Student Commission (AISC), said the event “brings the native community to UW.”

The Winter Powwow is an annual event organized by the AISC but reaches out to Native Americans outside the UW community as well. Barrett was responsible for making sure the event ran smoothly throughout the day, with Grand Entry beginning at 1 p.m. and the ceremony closing at 10 p.m.

“The importance of the powwow is to have people be involved with our culture — let them see what we’re all about,” said Chuck Cox, an elder from the Spokane Tribe and U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “There’s a lot of big misconceptions about the way we live.”

Kerry Evans, a UW sophomore planning on majoring in American Indian studies, heard about the powwow through a class she’s taking called “Powwow: Innovations and Traditions.”

Evans is Tlingit on her mother’s side and Blackfoot on her father’s side but said this was her first powwow. Most of the types of powwow dances are descended from the Plains tribes of Canada and the United States.

“They don’t really have powwows in the Tlingit tribe, which is what I’m more closely related with,” Evans said. “A lot of Native Americans — even if their tribes don’t have their own powwows and stuff — will go to them. But it started in the Plains Tribe and just spread out.”

Barrett is Quinault-Nisqually and made the same distinction as Evans.

“Powwow is actually a Plains ceremony, and I’m coastal, so it’s significantly different in regalia and dance style,” Barrett said.

Outside the gymnasium, vendors sold Native American crafts, jewelry, handbags, clothing, and traditional foods like fry bread.

The three drum circles were made up of mostly young Native American men in plain clothes. The audience too were in jeans and hoodies in contrast to the dancers, who wore ornate beaded and feathered smocks and headpieces with bells strapped to their knees and ankles and heavy eye and face makeup.

Many of the dancers were young girls with neon-colored dresses and long braids. The day was divided up into different exhibitions of dance. The intertribal dance allowed anyone to join the circle and dance.

“If you have any trouble that’s bothering you, you get out there, meditate while you dance, and it’ll take it away from you,” Cox said.

Since the HUB is under construction, the AISC has had to work harder to put everything together and get students to come. Equipment had to be brought to the school to facilitate the event.

“There’s a lot more logistics to it, whereas at the HUB we could just have one single building and all the stuff is provided,” Barrett said. “Out here we have to have … everything separate.”

Barrett said the biggest aspect of the powwow is community.

“Basically it’s bringing the native community that people don’t generally see or kind of recognize within the outer, larger Seattle area into UW so that people recognize we are there,” she said.

One of the biggest issues the Native American community faces, Barrett said, is visibility. Native Americans make up only 1 percent of the UW student population, giving all the more reason to come together for the annual powwow.

“Since getting on campus, people have heard, ‘Oh, I didn’t think Native Americans still existed,’” said Barrett. “It’s important [Native American students] know that there’s somewhere they can go and have that community.”

Reach reporter Katherine Erickson at news@dailyuw.com.

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