45th annual Powwow showcases dance, art and native culture

Co-chairs Anna Reed '19 and Shelbi Fitzpatrick '19 oversaw five committees and worked with the Native American Program in order to produce the event.

by Betty Kim | 5/16/17 1:15am

by Betty Kim / The Dartmouth

This past Saturday and Sunday, Dartmouth’s 45th annual Powwow took place in Leede Arena. Despite the rainy weather and resulting move from the Green, the event was successful in celebrating Native American culture and excellence, promoting inclusivity and diversity and honoring veterans and Joshua Monette ’19, a native student who recently passed away.

The powwow committee is run by two chairs, with five separate committees under them comprised of two to three students each: head staff, fundraising, vending, advertising and logistics.

Anna Reed ’19 was one of the co-chairs for the powwow as well as a member of the fundraising and logistics committees. Appointed by last year’s co-chairs, she started planning for the 2017 event in the fall of 2016 with her co-chair, Shelbi Fitzpatrick ’19. Together, the two oversaw all five committees and worked in direct contact with the Native American Program, Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said that most of the students who organized the powwow identify as Native American. The event is organized mostly by Native Americans at Dartmouth, an organization for students that identify as full or part Native American. Many of the committee members also tend to be freshmen excited about the event, Fitzpatrick noted.

According to Evan Barton ’20, the planning process required much time and effort but was ultimately rewarding. Between the co-chairs and the subcommittees, there are weekly meetings to go over explanations and about goals for the powwow.

Fundraising was probably the most time consuming position, Barton said, as the budget totals about $45,000. Reserving Leede Arena and paying for flooring was especially expensive. As a part of the fundraising committee, Barton organized the budget, which was templated by last year’s budget with a few alterations. Most significantly, this year the budget increased $10,000. Fitzpatrick and Reed also talked to the Special Program and Events Committee and College President Phil Hanlon about the budget.

“We brought up to [Hanlon] that within the [Ivy League] and high tier schools, our powwow isn’t as well funded as the others, and we think being a school that has Native Americans in the charter, that should be what’s going on,” Reed said. “Constantly reminding the administration of our purpose as an institution and keeping up a conversation in a constructive way that doesn’t tear down our cultural values is super important.”

Because a higher budget means the committee can increase the prizes offered for the dance and drum competitions, more people tend to participate, creating a better powwow overall, Barton said.

A prominent part of the powwow was the dancing and drumming contests, complete with expert dancers and drummers, spectacular regalia and a lively audience. The head staff of the powwow committee is focused on finding the head woman, head man and, for the first time, the head person, all of whom are the lead dancers for the event.

Niyo Moraza-Keeswood, a recent graduate of Brown University and the head man for this year’s dance, said it was a big honor to be able to lead the other dancers in the powwow.

“I’m a grass dancer. Our style goes way back to the plains areas — they have a lot of tall grass so they would send their men out to go dance and pat down the grass and get it nice and flat for everyone else to come in and set up,” Moraza-Keeswood said. “It’s a big part of my culture. When I’m dancing I forget about everything else and feel at peace.”

JoRee LaFrance ’17 was the head woman for this event. This year, the head person was Sherenté Harris, who identifies as two-spirit, a term that’s used in Native American history as someone who doesn’t conform to one gender or another, but somewhere in the middle, Barton said. According to Barton, Reed and Fitzpatrick, the addition served the two major goals of the Powwow committee: to promote diversity and inclusivity.

Aside from the all-day dance competitions which included a great variety of dances — the Men and Women’s Fancy, Jingle, Traditional, Golden Age, the Intertribal Dances and more — Harris led a dance called “Completing the Circle Special,” which had men and women dancing together. The dance has never been done at Dartmouth until this year’s powwow, Reed said.

Another major part of the event was the many vendors that set up in half of Leede Arena, selling many different kinds of items, from jewelry and clothing to children’s books and toys. The vendors applied three months in advance to sell their products at the powwow, Reed said.

Many of the vendors are from the Upper Valley area, which has a large, if spread out, native population, Barton said. The powwow is an opportunity for vendors to make connections, and these connections are what help the committee find more vendors.

The powwow committee tries to get the most authentic vendors as possible to come to the event, Barton said.

“We’ve had instances in the past where you find non-native artists making native things, and it’s a bit appropriative, so we try to stay true to finding native artists to come sell their things to us,” Barton said. “That’s a way to give back to the community, in a way.”

Chris Bullock, who both participated in vending and dancing, has been vending at the Dartmouth Powwow for five or six years. His father started their business in 1969, and Bullock and his wife now sell craft supplies, books and raw materials like sage, sweetgrass and botanicals.

“The powwow is always very positive, a good environment to come to, and it’s a good place to [bring] kids because all the adults look out for all the kids,” Bullock said.

Bob and Cindy Shelley of Up the Creek Traders sell genuine Native American crafts and products like sterling and silver jewelry, buffalo turkey, frybread and herbal teas from the Pine Woods Reservation. They ensure the quality and genuineness of the products because they know the people they buy from, Bob Shelley said.

“We travel to most of the powwows in New England and other [nearby] places like Pennsylvania — this powwow brings the finest people,” Shelley said. “The committee is always wonderful, really good singers and dancers, and the regalias are just fabulous and the vendors bring the most precious things that you could find.”

The powwow is important and supportive for Native American community members in the greater Upper Valley who have these heritages and need a place to celebrate their heritage, Reed said. According to Fitzpatrick, Dartmouth has the most native students among all of the Ivies percentage wise, so Dartmouth has a very diverse range of students from different tribes, inner cities and reservations.

“Our powwow in and of itself is a diverse one, and it’s very unconventional in that way that we have tribal affiliations from all over the place,” said Fitzpatrick, who is of Blackfoot descent. “That’s really amazing to see when we come here on the East Coast; I’m from Montana and I’m able to represent my home at an East Coast powwow.”

Reed and Barton also shared their ties with Native American culture, and their appreciation for the powwow as a cultural celebration. Reed, who is of Choctaw descent, said the powwow is reminiscent of her childhood and connecting with her grandmother.

“Hearing the first couple beats from the drum is really emotional because those sounds remind me of my childhood. I think it’s really similar for a lot of community members, and I think that’s one thing I hold really special about powwow — being able to feel like I’m back home,” Reed said.

She also spoke about her responsibility to continue on her legacy as a Native American.

“[I am] continuing on a story that is very quickly dying out,” Reed said. “I hold it really special to me that I have this privilege of continuing on a powwow. I take this on, kind of as a responsibility as the woman who steps up and makes sure the story doesn’t get forgotten.”

Barton expressed the complexity of the situation for persons of Native American descent in Oklahoma, his home state. Barton was born in his tribe’s capital and is 1/16 Cherokee.

“Cultural identity back home is different from [those of] natives here because Oklahoma’s history with Native Americans is very complex ­— it’s hard to uncover what really happened. Once Indian territory became Oklahoma, the natives in Oklahoma were forgotten,” Barton said. “Coming to Dartmouth was a way for me to dive into my cultural identity, and I’ve really embraced that and found a lot of value in it. I feel like I’m accepted and even though I’m considered white-passing, I still stand for a lot of what the Native Americans stand for.”

Barton, who will be one of the students running the powwow next year, suggested that non-native students come to the powwow because it allows them to see Native American culture in its full glory.

“I think that so many people come to Dartmouth and don’t know what a Native American is. The only reason I think I did was because I come from Indian territory, and it was a part of my state curriculum,” he said. “But so many people don’t know American history as native history when they’re really the same thing.”

Fitzpatrick expressed the same opinion regarding the need for more education in Native American-related topics.

“It should be a requirement to take one Native American studies course because that was the reason this school was started: to educate native people,” Fitzpatrick said. “[Non-native students should] take a class with a professor in a setting where there are usually many native students, learn from one another and come to events that native students host. Be a supporter and an ally.”