Powwow showcases drums, dancing, regalia

Melissa Fose

Melissa Fose

The SDSU Native American Club (NAC) will host its 19th annual Wacipi (powwow) in Frost Arena on Feb. 28 and March 1.

“(It’s) a gathering of Native American cultures and traditions brought together for the purpose of maintaining cultural traditions and educating future generations,” said NAC President Erica Fleury.

A grand entry ceremony will begin each of the weekend’s three sessions, starting Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and March 1 at 1 p.m. The welcoming ceremonies provide a chance to introduce important figures, as well as the performers. This year’s honor guard, the SDSU Veteran’s Club, will lead the procession.

The two-day event will include dancing and drum competitions, special dances, vendors, concessions, honor songs and two recognition presentations.

“It’s something to feel the drums vibrating through your body,” said Ron McKinney, Native American program adviser. He said the event is “(not just) for people to watch but to experience ? not just something in history or picture books.”

Performers and audience members travel near and far to attend the pow-wow. Attendance mainly depends on the weather, McKinney said. Over 600 people came over the weekend at the 2008 celebration.

The SDSU powwow is the first regionally held of the season, said McKinney.

He estimated 200 dancers and 26 drummers performed last year. Half of the dancers did not pre-register to win prize money; instead, they danced to dance. Dancers will be judged based on performance and regalia by head judge Jolene Arrow of Marty, S.D. Prizes range from $25 to $175.

He said that performers are ready to get back into it after preparing new regalia (cultural dress) and drums for the upcoming season.

Prize money will be given to the top three performers in each dance style. Styles include traditional, grass and fancy feather for men; traditional, jingle and fancy shawl for women; and golden age for both sexes. Boys, girls, juniors and “tiny tots” will also dance these styles.

“Even more than I enjoy watching the intense competition, I love watching this large group of diverse people come together for a weekend full of excitement, friendship and tradition,” said Fleury, a pharmacy student from Chamberlain.

McKinney said the event is “not only a celebration of here and now but of the past.”

Regalia is often passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes only a piece of the original regalia is sewn into a dancer’s new outfit. The regalia and powwow are about the “passing on of traditions,” McKinney said.

Aside from the dance competitions, there are other special dances. NAC is sponsoring a potato dance in which two people dance with a potato between their foreheads.

“It’s okay to laugh,” McKinney said. “It’s meant to be fun; that’s why they’re put in there.”

Along with a hand drum contest, there will be men and women’s switch dance contest. Winners of each contest will receive prize money. Intertribal dances between competitions will add variety, as audience members are welcome to participate

At the powwow, the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Clinton Waara, a 1993 SDSU graduate from Sioux Falls, S.D. Waara will receive a plaque, a star quilt and an honor song. During the honor song, a drum group will sing, and Waara and his family will have the opportunity to shake hands with many people, including audience members.

McKinney said award criteria calls for alumni who take on careers that give back to the Native American community. Waara is a part of Wells Fargo’s active state and community efforts, including sponsoring Native American events and bringing helpful workshops to the area.

Marcella Gilbert will also be recognized for completing her master’s degree last fall. A Fancy Shawl honor dance, for women over 40, will follow a presentation about Gilbert.

Along with organizing the powwow each year, NAC shows Native American films, hosts the Tunnel of Oppression, participates in the Highway Clean-up program and takes part in International Night and the Festival of Cultures. During the spring, club members spend time with high school students at the Flandreau Indian School Success Academy.

“The purpose of the club is to keep cultures and traditions alive and also to promote the culture,” Fleury said. “The club also gives Native American students a place to fit in on a campus where, at times, they may feel as if they never will.”

McKinney calls the club a “close-knit group” and invites other students to get involved. “It’s a way to be a part of something ? (and) share cultures.”

Wacipi EtiquetteFor those who have never attended a powwow, Ron McKinney provided some etiquette rules to follow.

Stand (if able) during the Grand Entry.

It can be a long ceremony, but it is important to show respect. The line-up includes honor guard, eagle staff bearer, veterans, dignitaries, royalty and dancers. The flag song sang in the Native language with drums and the U.S. national anthem are played followed by introductions of the line-up.

Don’t point.

Describe the person’s dress verbally instead of pointing. Not that it was ever polite to point at another person, but especially refrain from doing so at a powwow. Dancers may wonder whether a piece of their regalia has fallen off – especially an eagle feather, an elder’s gift that will stop the dance if it falls to the ground.

It’s okay to laugh.

Master of Ceremonies Butch Felix is known for telling jokes. The special dances will be fun additions to the event. Feel free to laugh.