Spring Powwow brings sense of community and family to campus

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Spring is the time of year when students begin to look towards the summer in anticipation as they finish papers and projects for the end of another school year. But for many others, spring is a time of reunion and family. This spring marked the 23rd annual Spring Powwow, bringing together many different Native American tribes to SCSU in celebration of family and community.

If you were near Halenbeck Hall on Saturday you probably heard the cheers and cries of the drum groups Red Tree, Little Thunder, and Timberland playing to the jingle of dancers

Students and community members of St. Cloud were invited to witness the clash of color, music, and culture that was the 2016 Spring Powwow. You didn’t have to be Native to appreciate the festivities that represent the celebration of life.

The powwow is a traditional Native American celebration of life and the connection of all people. This is a time of the year when families gather and friendships are renewed by singing, dancing, and spiritual bonding. The powwow hosted by SCSU is a traditional gathering where there is no admission fee and everyone is welcome to take part in the feasting and ceremonies that are used to honor the community.

American Indian Center Director Jim Knutson-Kolodzne has been attending the SCSU powwow for the past 12 years.

“It’s a unique opportunity for natives and non-natives to see the history and culture and language come alive at the powwow,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for St. Cloud State students to experience a culture different than their own.”

The powwow featured many different styles of dancing including Traditional, Grass, Fancy Shawl, and Jingle Dress. Both men and women had their own opportunities to take part, some competing and some just for celebration. The dances are an important part of a powwow, drawing all participants closer to their people and culture. Dancers perform within a circle that is sun-wise-clockwise around the drums, wearing regalia representing their tribal and personal symbols of significance.

Regalia worn by the dancers is an integral part of the dances. It represents a person’s tribe, history, and personality. They show a person’s honor for their home and family, and often have complicated backgrounds.

The Jingle Dress is part of a dance that is said to have evolved from the vision of an Ojibwe elder. The elder dreamed that four women appeared before him, showing him how to make the dresses and how to dance in them. While the dresses were originally made from bird bone, today they are made from curled tobacco tins. The tin makes a jingle sound whenever the dancer moves and is said to have healing powers.

SCSU alumni Debi Konz wore a jingle dress during the powwow, taking part in the dances to honor her Tsalagi (Cherokee) background.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories, but I didn’t really know about my heritage until I was in my mid-30s,” she said. “But I really started dancing before I even knew.”

Konz believes public powwows are important for students and community members to take part in. They help people understand a heritage and culture that has gone through decades of hardship and oppression.

“Our people are so damaged from years of people taking the most vulnerable and dividing them,” she said. “Minnesota makes me so proud because there have been obvious leaps towards recovery. There’s still hope because we’re still here.”

Minnesota is home to seven Anishinaabe (Chippewa, Ojibwe) reservations, and four Dakota (Sioux) communities. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Prairie Island Dakota Community, and the Shakopee Mdwakanton Sioux Community were a part of the powwow, showing students and community members that the Native American culture is alive in Minnesota.

Konz is retired now, but in the past she has spent time working in ESL. She sees dancing as an obligation—dancing for those who can’t, and wearing the jingle dress to heal those in pain.

“I just feel grateful to be able to move,” she said. “It’s scary at first, but the drum just takes over.”

The drum represents the heartbeat of all living things. Its solemn and steady thud guides the dancers around the circle, starting and ending the powwow at the center of the room. Drums can be handed down in a family and are made of deer, elk, or buffalo hides. It is the instrument of life and is treated as sacred. It quickens and slows with the beginning of each new song.

The songs start at the very beginning with the Grand Entry.  This opening shows off all of the dancers in a parade before spectators whom show their respect by standing. The parade is followed by the Eagle Staff which is carried into the circle with the state and tribal flags.

Director Knutson-Kolodzne says this is the students’ favorite part, as it gives everyone a sense of wonder and togetherness throughout the powwow.

“It’s really a wonderful beginning,” he said. “You stand and honor the Eagle staff and Veterans, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to see everything at once.”

The Grand Entry is followed by dancing, music, and then a feast where everyone is welcome to dig in. The meal included wild rice, corn, mashed potatoes, roast beef, and buffalo gravy. Everyone was encouraged to eat, following the tradition of not letting any food go to waste.

With bellies full of food, and hearts full of powerful music, spectators left Halenbeck Hall with a newfound insight into American Indian culture. For dancers and natives in attendance, the powwow was a renewal of their spiritual heritage and a reminder that everyone is family.