Traditions return in person at AISES 38th annual pow wow

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Collegian | Tri Duong

The intertribal drum circle during the 38th annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society Pow Wow in the Lory Student Center Grand Ballroom Nov. 5.

Ivy Secrest, Life and Culture Director

The Native American Cultural Center and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society at Colorado State University held the 38th annual pow wow in the Lory Student Center Nov. 5. 

For coordinators like Miya Chavez, president of AISES, the role the pow wow plays in the broader CSU community is essential. It elevates representation and visibility. 

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“I think a lot of people don’t see us as real, modern people,” Chavez said. “Just because we’ve held on to our traditions and our old ways of life doesn’t mean that we are completely out of the loop. We still have jobs, we still have phones, we still have everything that a white person would have; it’s just we’re essentially a product of assimilation.”

Even the location of this event — being at the land-grant institution that CSU is — made this assimilation apparent. However, many traditions have held strong, and over the past 38 years, the pow wow on campus has become its own tradition.

From the ground blessing and intertribal dancing and singing to the flatbread served and the vendors present, the event encompassed the community. 

“Even if they’re half or quarter, that’s part of who you are. Your ancestors, they had to survive for you to be here.” –Sunshine Sweetwater, jingle dress dancer of the Navajo, Cheyenne and Osage tribes

Reconnecting as a community was important to many attendees, especially considering how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected Indigenous communities. Many attendees were excited to return to socialize and experience community support; however, not all community members were able to return for this year’s pow wow.

“It’s sad because some people didn’t make it,” said Doug Good Feather, the spiritual consultant who performed the ground blessing and executive director of the Lakota Way Healing Center. “But I’m really thankful that we’re getting back to life again. We’re starting to move again.”

Dance is a big part of the pow wow, and this year’s dancers came to share this tradition with family members. Sunshine Sweetwater, a jingle dress dancer of the Navajo, Cheyenne and Osage tribes, came to the pow wow to dance with her mother and children. 

“I get to show my kids their culture,” Sweetwater said. “Educate them, make them belong and feel like they belong. It can be passed down from generation to generation.”

Sweetwater said she was excited to be back and socializing since the in-person events have such a different energy. She has been dancing since she could walk, and these events are a huge part of her life. 

“I feel like people kind of forget about Native American culture,” Sweetwater said. “They don’t really recognize it until November. And then everybody starts (to) talk about it for a month — then it’s gone again, like a repeated cycle. It’s so good to see non-Natives come to these events too. They get to get a sense of what we do, … how we’re connected to Mother Earth and the land and all of our culture.”

As families prepared for the dances, mothers like Sweetwater braided their children’s hair, and siblings wandered the LSC ballroom holding hands to stick together until it was their turn to dance. 

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“Even if they’re half or quarter, that’s part of who you are,” Sweetwater said. “Your ancestors, they had to survive for you to be here.”

Identity and what ties people to the Indigenous community are exemplified even in the titles people hold in the pow wow. 

“In our culture, you can’t go around claiming you’re something that you’re not,” Good Feather said. “It’s the people who will give you that title in that respect. They call me the spiritual leader/advisor, and I just walked my life regular.”

Good Feather said it was important for this country to remember that Indigenous peoples are a huge part of the United States’ history — that they are the founders, and this is their home. He said he was grateful to those who took the time to organize this and appreciate their families, their histories and their culture. 

“We’ve got to remember to keep moving forward,” Good Feather said. “It’s important for us to come together and see each other. You acknowledge each other and just realized we’re all on the same path. And we’re all human beings, and we’re no different.”

Reach Ivy Secrest at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @IvySecrest.