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'Celebrating Life' Pow wow celebrates Native American culture and tradition

Women participants dance during Pow Wow’s celebration of life on Mar. 17 in McGuirk Arena.

Central Michigan University and Native American communities were brought together to celebrate Native American culture March 17-18 for the 29th annual “Celebrating Life” Pow wow held at McGuirk Arena. 

This Pow wow is one of many similar events nationwide that Native American tribes attend in a year. According to the CMU North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO), Pow wows hold historical, social, and spiritual values. Pow wows are a time of rejoice and happiness. People partake in traditional song and dance, visit with family members, make new friends and trade arts and crafts. 

The two-day Pow wow event was put together by a group of CMU students and their advisers, called the Pow Wow Committee. The group is a part of the Native American program.

“These students want to bring culture and tradition into CMU,” Colleen Green, director of Native American Programs said.

Hunter Sagaskie, a junior from Memphis, Michigan is part of the Pow Wow Committee and NAISO. He believes the event brings both the Native American and CMU communities together as one. It provides a chance for students to celebrate the diversity in the world.

“This event allows us to celebrate the living culture,” Sagaskie said. “The importance is in the togetherness of the communities.”

Jonathan Glenn and Ken Snyder, both members of the committee, said the Pow wow teaches history though dance, food and singing. Glenn said the Pow wow provides an educational experience and shows the differences within cultures.

Glenn said the Pow wow connects the CMU body with where their name, Chippewa, comes from. It connects the body with what their name really means, through history and culture. 

“The looks on the little children’s faces says it all,” Glenn said. “It really shows how important these Pow wows are in their culture.” 

Competitors perform their traditional dances for Pow Wow on Mar. 17 in McGuirk Arena.

The first Grand Entry ceremony started the event at 1 p.m. 

Five drum groups surrounded the arena floor as each group played traditional songs. The host drum group, Midnight Express, led men, women and children onto the floor. Each tribe wore their own regalia as they danced.

The drum represents the heartbeat, or life. The pounding of the drum created life within the arena. 

Following the Grand Entry came the intertribal dance. During the dance, anybody is welcome to join as the five drum groups played traditional song.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with youth dance competitions. The Tiny Tot dance contest, which included children aged five and under, hit the floor first. Children and teens performed many different styles of dance.  

The young members competed until 5 p.m. when a dinner break was taken. 

Vendors sold a wide variety of crafts and merchandise brought from tribes across North America. People sold herbal teas, pelts, healing crystals and hand-made walking sticks.

Ron Kyllonen of the Ojibwa tribe in Keweenaw Bay sold Michigan pelts. He is part of the first tribe that was recognized by the federal government and the tribe where the name “Michigan” originates. 

The second Grand Entry started at 7 p.m. The adult competitions followed. Each tribe showcased their colors in their regalia. They also performed many different styles of dance and drum. 

“Pow wows bring awareness that we are still here,” said Floyd Sylas III, a member of the Oneida and Menominee tribes in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “It shows the culture of tribes and proves it’s more than just a costume.”

Sylas performed in the Grand Entries as well as the teen dance competitions. Sylas enjoys how Pow wows bring the younger generations into the community by allowing them to be a part of the tradition.

Gerald White, a member of the Anishinaabe tribe in Leech Lake, Minnesota, sees the Pow wow as a social gathering. White danced in the Grand Entries and the adult Old-Style Special. 

“Pow wows bring families and communities together,” White said. “We show our tribes heritage and others show their heritage. Performing is part of my identity, it’s a part of me."

Sunday includes more dance and drum competitions, and the announcement of scholarship winners.

The event was free for CMU students and some chose to take advantage of that. The Pow wow provided a glimpse of native culture, something that is often forgotten about, Snyder said.

Grand Blanc junior Madison Chase and Swartz Creek senior Kyra Denton came to the event together as part of gaining extra credit in class. They both would encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to attend a Pow wow due to the learning experience. 

“The event really showed the differences in culture and how they are still important,” Denton said. “It is a good way to bring the community together as one.”