Headline: Native American Student Association holds informative event on upcoming pow wow
By: Destiny Jones
Grand Valley State University’s Native American Student Association (NASA) held an educational event Monday, April 3, to educate attendees about Native American culture and traditional pow wows.
Guest speakers spoke about the culture, traditions, teachings and history of Native Americans. The event lasted for about two hours and gave those who attended an overview of what their upcoming annual pow wow celebration is all about.
NASA’s “Celebrating All Walks of Life Traditional Pow Wow” will be held Saturday, April 8, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, April 9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Fieldhouse.
A pow wow is a traditional ceremony that celebrates life and overall wellbeing of traditional Native American people. This is a time of healing, teaching, prayer and acknowledgement of the ancestors who dedicated their lives to their descendants’ paths today.
“A lot of misconception is that we are very exclusive,” said Samantha Gann, the president of NASA. “We want people to feel like they’re welcome and to experience our culture because it’s important to incorporate other communities, not just ours.”
At pow wows, there is an order and structure that is key to capturing the true essence of celebrating and healing. There is a four-direction medicine wheel that is followed that contains the key elements to life. There are a lot of different teachings in the medicine wheel as it gives balance. Awareness, understanding, knowledge and wisdom all make up the four parts of the wheel. The center of the circle is the creator, a person’s deity, not just their ancestors.
“Medicine is used to give support and life,” said Jonathan Rinehart, a behavioral health case manager for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.
He said they rely on medicines in their culture for healing, as food is also a form of medicine. Besides the usage of traditional healing medicines and food, dancing, cultural clothing, beading, hairstyles and music are also major parts of the culture.
During the ceremony, there is traditional dancing from both males and females that follows the medicine wheel in a clockwise direction.
“Sometimes a male dancer goes around counterclockwise to set the balance of a negative in positive,” said Rinehart.
They acknowledge everything is not going to always be positive in life, sometimes you may go through a rough patch, and there has to be balance in life.
The traditional dancing at a pow wow is divided into six main dancing styles. The three women dancing styles include traditional, jingle and fancy shawl dance. While the three male dancing styles are traditional, fancy and grass dance. Every dancing style represents a different purpose and has its own role.
“Jingle dress is a healing dance; it’s a medicine dress,” said Elizabeth Pigeon, a graduate student at GVSU.
Pigeon has attended the pow wow for as long as she can remember, as it is a part of her culture. She became a jingle dancer after a dream in 2004. Having a dream is usually how one becomes a part of a specific dance style.
“I had a dream, and in my dream, I had on this jungle dress,” Pigeon said. “There were people suffering and I had to help.”
She said this vision was one given to her as a responsibility from the creator. Her role as a jingle dress dancer is to heal and pray for those in need as she dances around the four-direction medicine wheel.
“We celebrate the physical world and honor life,” Pigeon said. “We try to encourage children to see the teachings.”
As the men play the drum and singing takes place, each dance style group takes its trip around the circle clockwise dancing on beat. They do not dance in a straight line as they weave in and out making their way around.
“The drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” Rinehart said. “It interacts with that spirit giving balance and harmony.”
The guest speakers wanted to get the message out that Native Americans are still here. The overlooking or ignorance of Native Americans is common, but they are still here celebrating their lives.
“It’s important for people to understand why we do our ceremonies and how to go about making sure that you respect them,” Gann said. “I want people to walk away like, ‘Hey, this is a really awesome experience, and I really feel welcomed.”
The annual pow wow is free to the public and will also feature vendors and auctions.
For a complete schedule and more information on the pow wow, visit