32nd annual Pow wow finds success in virtual format


A quiet arena echoed with voices of the two emcees. Five people occupied the basketball court during what would have been a full house.

The 32nd annual Pow wow: Virtual Edition was held via Facebook Live March 20-21. Even with the virtual platform the weekend-long event reached over 24,500 people, according to the Central Michigan University Native Programs Director Colleen Green.

Green, one of two staff members tasked with organizing the Pow wow, said while she saw the benefit of live-streaming the Pow wow, it was far different from the typical in-person event.

“It is not the same as an in-person Pow wow, where the drum moves through your body," Green said. "But it was nice to see the engagement.” 

Hosted by Central Michigan University, the North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO), and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (SCIT), the event was emceed by a former director of the Ziibiwing Center and an internationally experienced dancer and emcee.

The event began at 11 a.m. with a virtual grand entry featuring videos and photos from past Pow wows and greetings from President Bob Davies and SCIT Chief Timothy Davis.

Pow wow committee member, Onyleen Zapata said this year's preparation, specifically for the dance competition, was less stressful with more time to judge. Applicants were able to submit videos earlier in the month.

Due to the abrupt start of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year's Pow wow had to be rescheduled and quickly reformatted.  

"Last year, we did everything within three days and that was hard on us as a committee,” Zapata said.

Zapata missed “being able to hear the live music, see the live dancers [and] go visit the vendors,” but still tried to incorporate it all virtually. She said she noticed the online format took away from the student learning experience but nonetheless thought it went pretty well. 

Zack Antoine-Jackson, also on the committee, liked the style of the competition this year as well. Yet, the Pow wow was not the same, Antoine-Jackson said.

"Actually taking the time to judge the videos for what they were, it was like judging an actual dance contest," Antoine-Jackson said. "The one thing I miss is my friends and family that I usually see at the Pow wow and dancing with my bros."

Later on in the event, video submissions for the dance competition were played in a grid view. Categories included Tiny Tots, Golden Age, Youth (juniors), Teen, Adult and Hand Drum. 

Green, said this year's Pow wow would not have been possible without the help of students. Three NAISO members performed dance demonstrations around campus March 17 to bring awareness to the event.

Zack Antoine-Jackson kneels against the Biosciences building sign Mar. 17 after performing a tribal dance on campus.

“There is a lot of work that goes into coordinating a Pow wow whether it is in-person or virtual,” Green said. “We are in need of assistance from our students, staff, and faculty to be part of this committee. We value their expertise and insight and willingness to come together to create a platform to educate our community on our cultures and traditions.”