CSU AISES hosts 36th annual Pow Wow, celebrates traditions of Indigenous culture

Elena Waldman

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  • Akie Lee dances during an intertribal dance at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Stanley Aschenbrenner performs a dance called the “Men’s Fancy Dance” at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • The grand entry moves through the grand ballroom at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Dale Yazzie prepares his eagle bustle before the grand entry at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Diane Yankton braids her granddaughter, Morning Star Yazzie’s, hair at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Robert Williams shows off some of his regalia at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. Williams said that green is his favorite color and having it be part of his regalia helps reflect his personal touch. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Stanley Aschenbrenner, left, and Scott Murphy, right, move through the grand ballroom as part of the grand entry at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Isaac Wak Wak moves through the grand ballroom as part of the grand entry at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Cetan Christensen, right, helps Tate Christensen, center, get dressed in his regalia before the start of the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • Gerald Montour prepares his regalia at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. The regalia that Montour was putting the finishing touches on was made of a deer tail, porcupine hair and eagle feathers.(Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

    Collegian | Forrest Czarnecki

  • The grand entry moves through the grand ballroom at the 36th annual AISES Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

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Falling annually in November, Native American Heritage Month honors the deeply meaningful traditions of Indigenous culture.

Two men in Native American regalia dances.
Stanley Aschenbrenner, left, and Scott Murphy, right, move through the grand ballroom as part of the grand entry at the 36th annual AESIS Pow Wow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

Hosted by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Native American Cultural Center, Associated Students of Colorado State University and Ram Events, the Colorado State University 36th annual AISES Powwow was held on Nov. 3. The Powwow started the month off with a celebration of Indigenous people, dances, music, drum circles, food and vendors. Starting with the Gourd Dance and followed by the Powwow, the Lory Student Center Grand Ballrooms were packed with students and community members coming together to celebrate and learn about Native American culture.

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The LSC Ballrooms were lined with several vendors and organizations, while the center of the room featured an open space for dancers and drum circles.

A powwow is a gathering and celebration of Indigenous cultural traditions and consists of Native dances, songs, drum circles, food and communities. Kiowa Elder John Emhoolah said that this particular Powwow was intertribal, meaning many different tribes came together.

A man in glasses and a cowboy hat.
John Emhoolah watches a gourd dance at the 36th annual AESIS Powwow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. Emhoolah has been coming to the AESIS Powwow “for as long as I can remember, since the very beginning,” he said. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

“It’s a celebration and culmination of different tribes, different dances, different songs,” Emhoolah said.

Emhoolah started the Denver March Powwow over 40 years ago and uses his extensive knowledge and experience to oversee many of the events and gatherings at CSU, such as the AISES Powwow. Emhoolah said that upholding the tradition of the Powwow is a key part to spirituality and cultural preservation.

“I’ve been here at CSU— I forgot how many years now,” Emhoolah said. “I’m kind of the overseer, and at the same time, I look after their spirituality. Powwows don’t just happen. They are brought up in families and different tribes.”

The “Grand Entry,” or the beginning ceremony of the Powwow, was held twice during the event. Everyone was asked to stand and welcome the individuals who were featured at the event. Veterans holding the United States and Colorado flag were followed by dancers of different styles and tribes, and a song was played in honor of the veterans. Dancers came together in a Round Dance, forming a circle and moving to the music.

Hunter Valdo, a fifth-year electrical engineering major and former president of AISES, said the Grand Entry is a symbolic way of welcoming the community.

“It’s (Grand Entry) like an opening ceremony,” Valdo said. “(It’s) also honoring those who have come before us and who have yet to become. So both the past and future.”

There are several types of dances that were featured at the Powwow: Men’s Traditional Dance, Men’s Fancy Dance, Women’s Traditional Dance, Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance and Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. The “Tiny Tots,” or the very young dancers, lit up the room with their choreography.

“You gotta really know the singers because they’re the ones that make us dance. If it wasn’t for the singers, we would not be here as dancers, so we have to be connected together. When you hear a song, it really gets to your heart.” –Elvira Sweetwater,a Diné Powwow dancer

These dances are just a few examples of how meaningful and deep each aspect of Indigenous culture is. According to Indian Country Today, the meaning behind a dance like the Jingle Dress Dance comes from a legend of a young girl who was too sick to be healed. Her father, devastated over her sickness, received a vision in a dream of a specific dress and dance style. He then made her the dress and taught her the dance style, which healed the young girl.

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Elvira Sweetwater, a Diné Powwow dancer, performed a Hoop Dance and a Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance. Sweetwater said her performance of the Fancy Shawl Dance is inspired by a butterfly blooming from its cocoon. The shawl she wears, accompanied by her circular arm movements, represents the gentle flutter of a butterfly’s wings.

“This style is the fancy shawl, it’s more like a butterfly,” Sweetwater said. “Before (a caterpillar) becomes a butterfly, it’s in a cocoon. It’s kind of like a woman, they’re like a caterpillar and all of the sudden, they bloom.”

Sweetwater said that a powwow dancer must really know the music to be able to match it appropriately.

“The songs are all from different tribes and different areas, and some of them are really tricky,” Sweetwater said. “You gotta really know the singers because they’re the ones that make us dance. If it wasn’t for the singers, we would not be here as dancers, so we have to be connected together. When you hear a song, it really gets to your heart.” 

Dancers at the AISES Powwow are dressed in their personalized regalia, which is sometimes adorned with intricate embroidery, beads or bells. An individual’s regalia is hand-stitched and made with utmost attention to detail, focusing on creating an appearance that that reflects their inner essence.

Men play a drum and sing in a circle.
Kendall Kauley, second from left, leads others in singing and drumming during a gourd dance at the 36th annual AESIS Powwow at the LSC on Nov. 3, 2018. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

A person’s regalia is incredibly detailed and can sometimes take years to make. Valdo said that many people’s families make their regalia, and incorporate both their family heritage and their own individuality.

“A lot of what happens is it’s made by family members, or it gets passed down,” Valdo said. “That’s usually how a person’s regalia, or traditional outfit, comes together. It’s both what gets passed onto them, but also whatever they want to express. They don’t skip on anything. Even with some of the similar outfits, you’ll see that all of them are different from each other.”

Many people’s regalia can also reflect the type of dance style they perform, and a powwow is a way for the community to learn about the work that goes into these traditions. Valdo also mentioned that providing Native American students with a strong community and events like the Powwow is crucial to students’ academic and post-graduate success.

“It just goes back to traditional values,” Valdo said. “Especially in the fall, where you see a lot of incoming students or transfer students. Usually that first semester, or even with Native American heritage falling in November, this is the time when students start feeling homesick. It’s a big way to get involved especially since a lot of Native culture comes from having a strong community.”

The Native American Heritage Month Events hosted throughout November by the Native American Cultural Center can be found at www.nacc.colostate.edu. 

Elena Waldman can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com, or on Twitter @WaldmanElena.