April 19, 2004

Powwow Celebrates Native Cultures

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Local residents and students gathered in Barton Hall this weekend for the Cornell University Powwow Committee’s sixth annual Powwow and Smoke Dance.

More than 500 singers and dancers performed social and competitive dances, representing various Native American nations in the United States and Canada. Native American jewelry, clothing, crafts and foods were sold at more than 30 vendors. An arena was also set up for dancing.

The festivities took place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and commenced again on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. It was the University’s biggest powwow and dance competition to date, continuing for two full days. All powwows previously held at Cornell have been single day events, but according to powwow committee member Lynda Watt ’04, most authentic powwows last for two days. Twenty-three Cornell students volunteered to organize and help run the events.

According to the Cornell powwow literature, a powwow is held to join people together for dancing, singing, visiting, continuing old friendships and making new ones. It is a time to renew and preserve a rich heritage — a goal the Cornell powwow sought to accomplish by attracting participants from all over the area to revive old Native American dances and customs.

“I was unaware that Cornell had such an enthusiastic Native American community,” said Kate Hajjar ’07, who attended the powwow on Saturday.

The 12 p.m. grand entry, led by Prof. Lloyd Elm, American Indian studies, was a spectacle that signaled the start of the powwow. Dancers, honor guards and powwow officials entered the arena to the beat of a drum. Veterans carried flags of the American Indian Nation, the U.S., Canada and the POW/MIA Veteran’s flag, while attendees stood to honor the veterans.

The grand entry was followed by five hours of intertribal and contest dancing. Competitive dance categories included men and women’s senior, northern and southern traditional, fancy dance, fancy shawl, jingle dress, grass dance and smoke dance. After a short dinner break on Saturday evening, the dancing continued until 9:30 that night.

“I think this is an event that the Cornell Indian community looks forward to. It is hard work to put it all together, but I think the Native-American students really appreciate it,” Watt said. According to Watt, about 3,500 people from the Ithaca community, Cornell’s campus and beyond were expected to attend the powwow throughout the course of two days.

“We’ve done a good job advertising in hope that we would get folks from all walks of life,” said Danna Kinsey grad, who helped organize the food sales. The powwow was publicized through posters and fliers to Cornell students and Cornell Days visitors, as well as members of the Ithaca community and Native-American dancers and singers across the country.

The events continued on Sunday, beginning with a similar grand entry at noon and six consecutive hours of dancing, with a final closing ceremony at 6:15 p.m.

More than $10,000 in prize money was awarded to the top three finishers in each category.

The powwow was sponsored by Ongweoweh Corp., one of the largest privately held Native-American-owned companies in the U.S. Other sponsors included the Student Assembly Finance Commission, the Cornell University American Indian Program, Akwe:kon, Native American Students at Cornell and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

First-year committee member Ben Koffel ’07 was delighted by how smoothly the events ran.

“It’s my first year being on a powwow committee and it has been a blast. People are coming together to have a good time. That’s really what a powwow is all about,” Koffel said.

Archived article by Missy Kurzweil
Sun Staff Writer