Annual Powwow honors tradition

Vanessa Marcano

Vanessa Marcano

The rhythmic sounds of drums, intricate dance movements and vivid colors of Native American regalia will take over Frost Arena on Feb. 20 and 21 in celebration of the 20th Annual Wacipi Powwow, co-sponsored by the SDSU Native American Club.

Robert McKinney, faculty adviser for the Native American Club, explained that the powwow will be centered upon competitive Native American dancing in five different categories: traditional, Southern straight, jingle, grass and fancy. Dancers of several age groups will compete against each other and be judged in criteria such as regalia and ornaments, footwork and rhythmic response to drumming.

The best performers will be eligible to win prizes of up to $175, depending on their dance category and age group. McKinney, a member of the Choctaw nation, said this year’s powwow will feature dancers from all over the Midwest, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Traditionally, powwows were held by Native American nations across the U.S. to celebrate a specific success or high point of each people’s trade.

In the past, some nations hosted a powwow, an East coast tribal word for “celebration,” to honor the harvest season, while others did it to celebrate a bountiful hunting period.

“This is the first big event of the region; every year we kick off the powwow season in the upper Midwest,” McKinney said. “We have adopted this time of the year to celebrate ? and hopefully bring in the spring.”

The dance categories differ in footwork, regalia and overall history. The jingle category features traditional clothing adorned with lightweight aluminum cones that produce sounds as the dancer moves.

“(The jingle dance) came from the upper Midwest, when a medicine man had a dream about healing and the power of womanhood. In this dream, women were dancing and they had these shells on their dress. Over time, the shells have evolved into aluminum cones,” McKinney said.

In the grass dance, young men would stomp down the grass in order to make the ground suitable for dancing. In this category, the footwork is designed to cover the most area while dancing. Meanwhile, the fancy dance’s main distinction is the use of very colorful regalia and headdresses, since it was originally performed for the purpose of tourism, McKinney said. Each individual dance is up to three minutes of constant movement.

Jocy Bird, theatre major and member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations, is a competitive dancer in the fancy category and has been performing “since she could walk.”

As part of the NAC and winner of the first prize in last year’s SDSU Wacipi “celebration” (in Dakota language), Bird helped answer a few cultural questions regarding the tradition behind the dances. Bird also explained that, as many powwow dancers, she was in charge of making all of her regalia and dancing clothes.

“You can learn a lot, there’s music and various dances with stories behind them, it’s in different languages. It’s interesting to learn about other cultures,” Bird said.

McKinney said that usually during the late fall and early winter months, following the last powwow, performers take the time to make their clothes and beadwork. By the end of February, the SDSU Wacipi provides an opportunity for many to show off their handcrafted regalia, as well as an arena to dance and celebrate after such a long time without performing.

Though she will not perform at SDSU this year because she will be participating in a larger event in Arizona, Bird said one of her wishes is for SDSU’s powwow to expand and become even more significant in the community.

“Some of the exciting things to see are the bright colors and different regalia, but it’s not just a show. Some people are there just to dance, because that is how they renew and build themselves spiritually,” McKinney said. “There will be ceremonies and prayers ? It is not something that you go just to observe; it embraces you and you become a part of it.”