The University Record, September 5 , 1995

Flint students sponsor third pow-wow this weekend

By Angela Sawyer

Though possessing a long history of Native American tradition going back to the Paleo-Indian period (11,500 B.C.), Flint‘s rich Native American history is often overshadowed by its industrial memoirs.

One of Flint‘s oldest Native American villages still lies alongside I-69 near the Michigan School for the Deaf.

Dixie Highway was once a major Native American game trail.

The Flint River was once a natural Native American transportation route for hunting, fishing and trading.

Recently, major interstates have been identified as Native American trails used by many tribes and nations.

On Saturday (Sept. 9), noon–6 p.m., the U-M-Flint Native American Student Organization (NASO) will commemorate elder Native American spirits, rejoice in the cultural strength of their children and resurrect the traditions of old at the Third Annual Traditional Pow-Wow, to be held in the shadow of the Flint River on the south lawn of the campus.

Each year, planners explain, when the richness of summer moves across the Earth Mother and Old Man Winter is just a memory, the tribes of Native American nations gather for a “quickening” or sharing in what is now more commonly known as a pow-wow.

The most visible symbol of indigenous culture today, pow-wows were once outlawed by the U.S. government to suppress Native American populations and culture. The most notable resulted in the massacre at Wounded Knee, where hundreds of Native Americans were killed for performing the infamous Ghost Dance.

During the past 20 years, however, Native American dance has experienced a resurgence, mainly through pow-wows. Dancing in full regalia in a circle to represent the cycle of life, the sun, the moon and the Earth, indigenous people today pow-wow in a celebration of friends, preserved culture and a love of the Earth Mother.

“When I came to the U-M-Flint campus, I saw people talking. Talking of what they were doing with their education and where they were as a result of their degrees,” says Gary Gibson, 1992–93 president of NASO and one of the founders of the U-M-Flint Pow Wow.

“But for basic understanding, you have to be positive within and share that with others by doing,” he says, “and I didn‘t see a lot of that happening.”

Gibson, who is cultural specialist for the Carman-Ainsworth School District, says that other ethnic cultures and traditions are as important as our own, are an integral part of a students‘ education—as well as the student‘s major—and should be encouraged by educational institutions by creating activities that promote cultural exchange.

“I think major universities should be culturally in tune. Not only to Native American culture, but other ethnic cultures as well,” he adds.

Gibson, who participates in pow-wows but separates himself from the commercialism of the competitive gatherings, says he dances “for my mother who is disabled, my family, my grandfather who is disabled, my friends, the people I love and myself. Pow-wows provide me an opportunity to be proud of who I am, they are an acknowledgment of self.”

The year‘s free, public event, titled “Honoring Our Children and Their Education,” is co-sponsored by the Student Life Office and Mott Community College.

Featured will be storytelling by Flint graduate Robyn Henry, host drum provided by Crooked Tree and Kevin Schlappi, inter-tribal dances in full regalia, traditional indigenous foods and artists‘ crafts.

Children, who play a vital role in Native American society, will have an opportunity to learn the significance of art by making decorative chokers and medicine wheels for a small fee.

“The most important part is the dance,” Gibson says. “Dancing combines sharing with friends, family and loved ones in respect and camaraderie. I believe that if all ethnic groups got together four times a year, solely to share and dance, the world would be a more peaceful place.

“When we pow-wow beside the river, the river remembers that it has felt the drums before. It remembers the old way.”