50th annual Dartmouth Powwow, lūʻau to be held this weekend

The Powwow is organized by the Native American Program, while Hōkūpaʻa puts on the lūʻau.

by Aryanna Qusba | 5/3/22 5:04am

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The Powwow

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Dartmouth’s 50th annual Powwow, hosted and organized by the Native American Program, will take place on the Green on Saturday, May 7. The Powwow will feature dances, food and music to honor and celebrate Indigenous communities, according to Powwow co-chairs Ahnili Johnson-Jennings ’23 and Jess Meikle ’23. On Sunday, May 8, Hōkūpaʻa, the Pan-Pasifika student organization on campus, will hold the Dartmouth Annual Lūʻau on the Gold Coast lawn to celebrate Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander identity on campus, according to an announcement on the NAP website. 

Johnson-Jennings  and Meikle  said that the celebration honors Indigenous students, faculty and alumni in a festival that unites the entire campus. Johnson-Jennings and Meikle noted that the Powwow is one of the largest on the east coast and is also one of the largest student-run events on campus. According to the NAP website, the event brings together over 1,500 people from all over the country. 

“We are proud Native folks and we belong here on our own terms,” Johnson-Jennings said. “So I'm really excited that we’re still having it on the Green this year and that we still have that tradition, and I’m really proud to be upholding that.” 

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, Meikle said that NAP will “highlight members of our community who have passed and members [who] are retiring,” adding that this year will be “a healing-based Powwow.” According to the program, there will be a memorial honoring for Beau DuBray ’24, who was a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

The co-chairs said that the festivities will open with the lighting of the traditional fire led by a faculty member the night before the Powwow, which is open for anyone to observe. On Saturday, the main events begin at noon with intertribal honoring songs and various rounds of social dances with prizes. The day will conclude with a closed dinner for the Native community and alumni.

Johnson-Jennings emphasized that the Powwow goes beyond a structured performance and is more of an “ongoing, fluid event.” 

While the Powwow has performance elements intended to be a spectacle, according to Johnson-Jennings, the act of participation in the Powwow is healing and celebratory.

“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate our Indigeneity with the broader Dartmouth community, which is not necessarily something that we get to do on an everyday basis on this large of a scale,” she said.

The day after the Powwow, Hōkūpaʻa will hold a lūʻau to honor Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander culture on campus, according to lūʻau co-chair Kala Harman ’23. Harman said that the NAP has been working to plan the event since February and specified that they are trying to accommodate and feed at least 350 people.

Harman added that she hopes the lūʻau will be a chance to celebrate Native Hawaiian culture and educate the Dartmouth community.

“A lot of people’s idea of lūʻau in the U.S. is wearing coconut shells and grass skirts, but lūʻau is more of a big feast and gathering for our Native Hawaiian community and Polynesian cultures in general,” Harman said. “It’s about bringing people together through food and music.”

Beyond enriching the Dartmouth community, Harman said that the lūʻau provides an opportunity to support businesses in Hawai’i. According to a campus-wide email from Hōkūpaʻa, the event will feature vendors from Hawai’i. 

In  an effort to include non-Native groups in the Powwow celebration, Johnson-Jennings explained that there will be a street clothes dance contest open to everyone, unlike other Powwow events which are reserved for members of tribes wearing traditional garments. 

Meikle said that after two years without the Powwow due to the pandemic, she is excited for this year’s celebration and “proud to see everybody's hard work pay off.” Johnson-Jennings said she is also looking forward to the event, adding that the Powwow will allow the Dartmouth community to “learn from Native peoples on our own terms.”

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