Students learn about Native American culture and traditions at CMU Pow Wow


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Shannon Millard/Staff Photographer Jefferson Ballew, from Pakagon Band Potawatomi dances in a large circle at the 25th Annual Celebrating Life Pow Wow in McGuirk Arena Sunday, March 23, 2014.

Adding a grandson to his dance troupe of six sons at the Central Michigan University Pow Wow, Rick Cleveland ensured the cultural heritage of Native Americans will continue to live on through generations.

The lead singer of the Ho-Chunk, a Michigan Native American tribe, performed several songs and dances at Saturday's 25th Annual CMU "Celebrating Life" Pow Wow.

“There’s no better way to express ourselves than through dance and song (than) with friends and family,” Cleveland said. “It’s a very special time and I am fortunate enough to be able to share these moments with my children."

The weekend festivities opened with the grand entry at McGuirk Arena in the CMU Events Center. All of the dancers entered the dance circle arena, led by the head veteran and flag bearers. The 35-minute ceremony featured dancers performing synchronized steps to the beat of the host drum as the tribes were introduced.

After the grand entry, the smoke dance began, making its first appearance at the CMU Pow Wow on Saturday in honor of the 25th anniversary. The dance, performed by both men and women, has a fast beat and many steps, which require the dancer to be focused on the rhythm of the music.

CMU alumnus David Purchase and his wife, who occasionally attend Michigan pow wows, enjoyed teaching their two grandchildren about the Native American culture on Saturday during the grand entry.

“The Pow Wow exposes younger people to what the Native American culture has done, so it’s comforting to see so many students around,” Purchase said. “The local Native Americans here are very welcoming and have a lot of strong outlooks on life and love.”

Throughout the rest of the day, McGuirk Arena was consistently energized with a number of dance and drum contests. Both adults and young adults had their own competitions, where many traditional Native American dances were performed.

The main dances were the traditional dance, grass dance, women’s jingle dress dance and the fancy dance – a competitive dance tailored for modern male warriors.

Darrel Hill, one of the male fancy dancers, said he loved the energy the crowd brought and encouraged more students to attend the pow wows.

“Students can get a proud sense of the culture and knowledge of native people by coming here and seeing what we are all about,” Hill said. “They don’t just learn about the culture, they learn about life and love as well.”

Set up next to McGuirk Arena was the arts and crafts vendors area, where attendees browsed and purchased various items from more than 20 different vendors. A wide variety of hand-made goods were available to customers, which ranged from clothes and jams, to pet rocks and warrior knives.

This marks the first year Native American vendor Cindy Pigeon setup her collection of hand-made Native American necklaces and dreamcatchers to be sold at the CMU Pow Wow.

“I really want everyone to feel comfortable here and to realize that we are just the same as everyone else,” Pigeon said. “We enjoy opening up our culture for students and other young people to show them who we actually are, not just who they think we are.”

Pigeon stressed the importance of students coming out and meeting Native Americans themselves, so their viewpoints of the Native American culture are not limited to how the culture is sometimes perceived through media.

One of the many aspects that made the pow wow possible was the large number of volunteers, many of whom were CMU students, who showed up to help organize and setup.

Warren sophomore Brooke Dixon had an educational and an entertaining time volunteering on Saturday, and said she thinks other students would be amazed by what the pow wow has to offer.

“Learning about a different culture in this way is definitely a fun, new experience,” Dixon said. “It’s important for students to come out and experience the unique traditions because they are so entertaining.”

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