On May 13, the Native American Program at Dartmouth held its 51st annual Powwow on the Green, which featured ceremonies, dances and a meal to honor the Indigenous community on campus. The Powwow was followed by a lū’au on May 14, organized by Hōkūpa’a, the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander student group.
Alumni, performance groups and vendors traveled from across the country to join the Powwow celebration, according to Powwow co-chair Ahnili Johnson-Jennings ’23. Around 1,000 people attended the Powwow’s grand entry at noon, which included a procession of the Dartmouth Alumni Delegation and groups of dancing students, according to Powwow co-vice chair Sydney Hoose ’25. The grand entry was followed by a two-step contest and the “senior sweetgrass honoring,” in which graduating seniors were handed sweetgrass.
The day is critical to Native American visibility on campus, according to Johnson-Jennings.
“We’re serving the Native community on campus,” Johnson-Jennings said. “We want to be able to be Native on our own terms and share with the larger Dartmouth community what it means to be Native. I think it’s important that campus sees us and we get to see our own community.”
The lū’au, which is separate from Powwow and held the day after, is an important way to highlight different Indigenous cultures, according to lū’au co-chair Li’ua Tengan ’25.
“We’re not separating ourselves, but we have our own specific people and cultures,” Tengan said. “We establish our own presence, and that’s why we separate ourselves from Powwow, because we are different cultures. We’re not all just one [type of] Native.”
Hoose said that Powwow is always held on Mother’s Day weekend. She thinks the overlap is intentional, allowing Native students, whose parents might visit for the Powwow, to celebrate with their mothers.
During the “Honoring Our Mothers” portion, organizers gave all mothers in the crowd a flower and called them into the arena, where they gathered in a circle, held hands and stepped in-time to the music. Hoose said that the circle formation was an important show of connection between the women.
“It’s a big thank you to them — a show of respect,” Hoose said. “I’m excited for my own mom to come up my senior year, so I can do this with her. I think it’s very powerful [and] especially empowering for women.”
According to Johnson-Jennings, the Powwow helps fulfill Dartmouth’s commitment to Native students. She explained that Dartmouth was established on the assimilation of Native Americans, but the College “never actually served” Native students until its recommitment to their education in the 1970s. The Dartmouth Powwow — which was founded in 1972 and is the oldest college Powwow in the country — was an important part of the recommitment, she said.
“This school is on our land, and we’re taking it over,” she said.
Attendees milled around the booths selling Native products as the events proceeded in the main arena. One vendor, Susan McCarville, is the owner of Native Dezines, a business that sells jewelry and accessories along the East Coast through the “Powwow season” from April to October. McCarville, who is Abenaki and Métis and lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts, said she started making jewelry and accessories so she could afford to bring her daughter to Powwows and connect with their Native heritage.
“It’s a way to keep our traditions and our culture alive,” she said. “[Our culture] was something that was washed through generations, and it’s going to take us generations to get it back. So I’m just doing my part.”
Mark Humpal, who is not Native, said he has been selling goods at the Dartmouth Powwow for more than 40 years. Humpal said he accrued his goods by trading on Hopi and Navajo reservations and with the pueblos along the Rio Grande.
According to Humpal’s daughter, Hannah Darling, who has attended the Powwow with Humpal since she was born, the event once boasted a stronger community among the vendors and visitors, but it has lost that sense of community over time.
“There used to be much more community for everyone attending,” Darling said. “They used to host a dinner for everyone at the end of the night and we could all gather … There have just been a lot of changes that I think have dissipated the [visitors’] community.”
Jennings-Johnson said that recovering the Powwow after the pandemic has been a “rocky rebuilding.” According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, this year marked the second occurrence of the Powwow after COVID-related cancellations in 2020 and 2021.
“A lot of these students started [attending Dartmouth] during COVID, so they haven’t seen what [the Powwow] is exactly,” Johnson-Jennings said. “Rebuilding specifically has been hard in trying to gain that community sense and passion for the Powwow because no one knows what to be passionate about.”
Despite these obstacles, the Powwow relies heavily on student involvement, according to College Dean Scott Brown, who called the event “a very extensive, involved community effort.”
The Powwow committee has been working since the fall, starting with looking for funding and organizing air travel for alumni, Hoose said. To connect the Dartmouth Native community, the Powwow committee organizes an alumni scholarship, which pays to fly alumni to Hanover for the day.
The celebration of Indigenous culture on campus extended after Saturday. Sunday’s lū’au featured food, games and student performances “to celebrate the continued existence and growing representation of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander identities on the Dartmouth campus,” according to the lū’au flier. The Dineh Tah Navajo dance group also performed in Collis Common Ground on Sunday.
Approximately 650 people attended the lū’au on Sunday, according to Tengan. Hōkūpa’a started organizing for the event in the fall, starting with ordering custom clothing, which can take 6-10 months to receive.
As attendees ate, there was a female dance, a male dance, and a co-ed dance, Tengan said. One of the Hōkūpa’s presidents performed with her mother for Mother’s Day, and there were also solo acts.
Azariah Javillonar ’23 and his family served poke, white rice, ribs, kalua pork and edamame for the lū’au, Tengan said. Javillonar’s father caught the fish served at the event himself to serve at the lū’au.
Tengan said that this celebration was an important part of asserting the presence of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students at Dartmouth.
“I know a lot of people on campus don’t even know that Natives still exist,” Tengan said. “By creating these events, Powwow and lū’au, we’re establishing our presence and saying we are here.”
Hoose, who will co-chair the Powwow committee next year, said she is excited to continue the Powwow and give back to the people that brought her to Hanover.
“[Native Americans at Dartmouth] was always a very supportive community,” she said. “I found some mentors in the community, and I’m very grateful. It’s honestly one of the main reasons why I came to Dartmouth.”
Correction Appended (May 16, 11:31 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Tengan’s title. The article has been updated.