Wacipi celebration returns to Frost Arena


submitted photo

Dancers performing at a past Wacipi event. This year’s event is the first in three years and will take place this weekend.

Jacob Boyko, News Editor

South Dakota State University’s annual Wacipi event returns this year to Frost Arena as a two-day powwow April 9 and April 10 featuring Native American food, dancing and other cultural staples.  

Wacipi, meaning “to dance” in the Dakota language, is an annual celebration where people gather to sing, dance, renew friendships and forge new ones, as well as an “opportunity to honor individuals, conduct giveaways, hold naming ceremonies and celebrate life,” the SDSU Wacipi/ Pow-Wow guide reads.

Luann Miner has been involved with the American Indian Student Association (AISA) since 2018. Now a senior and the club’s president, Miner has a direct role in planning the first Wacipi in three years.

“During the planning process, there are always ups and downs, but we never let that stop us completely,” Miner said. “We are on the last stretch of finalizing and putting the last pieces together after months of hard work.”

The powwow will begin with the Grand Entry. During the Grand Entry, flag bearers, honor guard, dignitaries, powwow royalty and honored guests will enter. Following them are dancers in age-based categories. Golden Age, or the elderly, will enter first and the categories will get progressively younger. The last dancers in the Grand Entry are the Tiny Tots. The Grand Entry will be held three times throughout the weekend: Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Selena Olvera, the program coordinator at the American Indian Student Center, anticipates about 500 people in attendance over the weekend. She encourages non-Native American students and community members to show up as well.

“It’s just a good way to see our culture,” Olvera said. “We want to bridge the cultural gap to show people who we really are.”

Miner also encourages anyone interested to show up to the Wacipi and attend AISA meetings.

“Students should check out our event to see the beauty in regalia, songs and dancing,” Miner said. “It would be a great opportunity to share our culture and tradition with everyone.”

SDSU students with their student I.D. will receive free admission, as well as anyone over 55 and children under seven. Admission for everyone else is $6.

One special dance featured is the Velva Lu Spencer Jingle Dress Special. In a jingle dress dance, women wear dresses adorned with hundreds of little cones, or jingles. Spencer was a Native American advisor from 1988 to 2003 and is whom Spencer Hall is named after.

“We’re working with [Spencer’s] family to host that and to honor and remember her,” Olvera said.

Indian tacos will be sold over the weekend, and a free community meal will be held Saturday night featuring soup, fry bread and a traditional berry pudding called Wojapi.

According to Olvera, the event was a two-day celebration until about 2010 when it switched to a one-day event. Meanwhile, the University of South Dakota continued with a two-day event, and many in the Native American community went to Vermillion’s event instead.  By returning to a two-day event this year, Olvera hopes to make SDSU’s Wacipi the definitive college powwow.

In future Wacipis, Olvera hopes to incorporate another traditional powwow mainstay: princess competitions. Native American girls are judged by their dancing and by their involvement within the community through language and culture.

Vice President for Student Affairs Michaela Willis encouraged students to attend the Wacipi at Monday’s Students’ Association meeting and said anyone interested in volunteering to help at the event should reach out.

“If you’ve never been to a Wacipi, it’s a really fun experience,” Willis said. “So enjoy the opportunity to get involved.”