Annual pow wow celebrates Native American culture

GVL / Archive

GVL / Archive

Shiloh Reynolds

In conjunction with Grand Valley State University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Native American Student Association hosted the 21st annual Celebrating All Walks of Life Traditional Pow Wow Saturday, April 6.

A pow wow is a celebratory gathering held by Native Americans which often includes traditional dances.

“It’s a cultural celebration to celebrate the ancestors and indigenous people of the land,” said Native American Student Association member Samatha Gann. 

Gann is a fifth-year member of the organization. She said she originally wanted to join to connect with her ancestral heritage, which has roots among the Ottawa.

GVSU’s campus resides on land originally belonging to the Three Fires Confederacy — the Potawatomi, Odawa (Ottawa) and Ojibwe. According to a report by Donald L. Fixico in the Michigan Historical Review, at one time, population of the Three Fires Confederacy reached approximately 50,000 Ojibwes, 4,000 Ottawas and 4,000 Potawatomis. 

The annual Pow Wow serves to educate students and community members about indigenous cultures, as well as foster relationships and understanding among individuals.

Saturday’s pow wow was held in Fieldhouse Arena and lasted from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., with Grand Entries occurring at noon and 5 p.m. 

The perimeter of the Fieldhouse was lined with various Native American vendors selling homemade goods, such as beaded jewelry and purses, cloth, painted wooden bowls and fry bread. Some vendors drove hours to be at the event; one man remarked he traveled all the way from Traverse City to sell his stonework. In addition, GVSU’s Native American Student Association sold t-shirts featuring local artwork to raise money for future pow wows.

As Native Americans highly honor war veterans, the beginning of the Grand Entry was marked by three veterans carrying in flags: the US flag, the Canadian flag and a prisoner of war flag that proclaimed “you are not forgotten.” The Head Veteran of the pow wow was Ray Cadotte. 

To the beat of drums, the three veterans began making their way around a circle set up in the middle of the Fieldhouse. They were flanked by all the rest of the other dancers, who ranged in age from toddlers to elders. 

After a prayer was led to honor the memories of those who had passed and hope for new friendships and continued safety, the Veteran Song was performed. For this song, any member of the audience who was involved in the military or who wished to honor a loved one in the military was invited to the middle of the circle to join in the dance.

The head male dancer at the pow wow was Ernie Loonsfoot, while the head female dancer was Cherie Chivis.

Other songs performed include the Men’s Grass Dance, Men’s Northern Traditional Dance, Men’s Fancy Dance, Women’s Northern Traditional Dance, Women’s Jingle Dress and Women’s Fancy Shawl. Each of these dances held significant meaning — from healing powers to representing a flying bird to telling a tale about a successful hunt.