April 16, 2007

Powwow Brings Native American Dance to C.U. Campus

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Native American song and dance filled Barton Hall Saturday afternoon and evening as the University hosted the Eighth Annual Cornell Powwow and Smokedance. Sponsored by Native American Students at Cornell, the Powwow brought together drum groups, vendors and over 100 dancers in a celebration of indigenous culture.
After a one-year hiatus so that Native students could focus on hosting the All Native Ivy Conference, the Powwow Committee was reformed in the fall to bring back the event. Kyrie Ransom ’09, head woman dancer, explained that “Two years after the last powwow, it was a rough start-up,” adding that most of the people who were involved had already graduated, and younger students played a major part in planning this year’s event. However, even with the difficult beginning, “there was a really good turnout, this powwow was a huge success.” Ransom said.
Students attending the Powwow were enthusiastic.
“I think this is great, that they have this opportunity to show pride and celebrate their culture.” said Phillip Kaine ’08, adding, “I was blown away.”
Matt Ricchiazzi ’08, a member of the Powwow committee, explained the importance of hosting the event.
“This is an amazing opportunity to introduce the Cornell and Ithaca community to indigenous culture, and it allows Native American students to maintain ties with tribal nations.”
He said that “Yes, absolutely,” there will be a powwow next year.
Many different types of Native dance were performed for exhibition, such as Traditional, Grass Dance and Fancy Shawl Dance. However, the major focus was on the Smokedance competition. Smokedance is common to this area, and Haudenoshonee, also known as Iroquois, dancers are known for it. Male and female dancers competed separately, and there were different divisions for different age groups. The competitors were judged on three criteria: complete and proper Haudenoshonee attire, knowledge of songs and the ability to distinguish between male and female styles of dance.
Spectators had the opportunity to dance themselves during the social dances. These included the Alligator Dance, where the male dancer rotates the female around him, like an alligator rolling his food in the water, as well as Eskanye, a dance for women, and the oldest dance of the Iroquois. Master of Ceremonies Orville Greene explained the meaning of dances to the audience while encouraging people watching to participate. He warned the audience that “Sometimes you look and think should I or shouldn’t I [join in], and by the time you think yes, the song is over.”
Jack Zhao ’08 saw the dance as “a lot of footwork and expression of your body.” Bill Stickney ’07 was impressed by the dancers’ skill.
“They felt the music really well,” Stickney said.
Ransom has been performing these dances since before she can remember. She explained that growing up on the Akwesasne reservation, “You learn to dance, you learn to sing, you learn about your culture and who you are. An important part of it is the ceremonies, and with the ceremonies comes the dancing.”