The University Record, March 15, 1999

Pow Wow offers chance for new experiences, reaffirmation of culture

By Theresa Maddix

This photo from the 1998 Pow Wow offers a glimpse of the pageantry those attending this year's celebration can expect to experience. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
For non-natives, it is a chance to experience a new culture. For Native Americans, it is a chance to reaffirm connections to community, family and spirituality. The 1999 "Dance for Mother Earth" Pow Wow will bring more than 1,000 of North America's champion singers and dancers to Crisler Arena March 26-28.

Sponsored by the Native American Student Association and the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, the Ann Arbor Pow Wow is recognized as one of the top Native American celebrations in North America.

It is a celebration honored by the whole community, with more than 10,000 attendees last year. Joseph Reilly, co-chair of the Native American Student Association, describes the Pow Wow as "a time to be surrounded by friends, family and community to sing, dance, meet new people and have fun."

To newcomers he offers this advice: "Attend with an open mind. Many have stereotypes or pre-conceived notions about Native Americans and are surprised when they come to a pow wow and find us incorporating traditions with contemporary lifestyles. Don't come expecting it to be a certain way. Just experience it and have fun."

The pow wow experience can be overwhelming. Each element, from the spectacular entrance led by veterans in full regalia to the heartbeat of the drums, is imbued with meaning. First-timers should not let this discourage them. A master of ceremonies leads the event, setting the tone and explaining what is happening as the Pow Wow develops.

Each day's main event is the grand entry. The drums, led this year by the Whitefish Jrs of Saskatchewan, will begin the entrance song at the emcee's signal. Participating drum circles, with a minimum of eight male drummers, are required to play any variety of dance or ceremonial music without hesitation upon the emcee's command. The songs progress in a circular fashion from group to group. Whitefish Jrs will be followed first by co-host Treetown of Ann Arbor and then the other invited drums.

When the entry song begins, the prominent war veterans enter the arena, followed by veterans carrying brightly colored eagle staffs, and United States, Canadian, M.I.A. and P.O.W. flags. As different dancing groups enter, the songs shift to reflect their style. Styles include men's traditional, fancy and grass, and, separate but equally beautiful, women's traditional, jingle and fancy shawl. The drums continue playing until the arena is filled with dancing. Next, a prayer is said by a leading veteran and a song is played honoring all veterans, native and non-native. After the honoring song, intertribal and contest songs begin.

The days' events begin a few hours before the grand entrance. This gives participants a chance to visit craft booths where a variety of beads, food, clothing, artwork and other items are sold. It also is a time to listen to the drums.

Each drum, made out of hides, is said to have a woman's spirit inside. Listening to the musical heartbeat is a way of bringing balance and rejuvenation.

The sense of rejuvenation March 25-27 will be almost tangible. "Laughing," Reilly says, "is an important component to pow wows."

Tickets are $8 a day for adults; $6 a day for senior citizens, college students with valid I.D. and students ages 13-17. Children's tickets are $4 a day for children ages 4-12 and free for children younger than 4. Weekend passes are available. Doors open at 5 p.m. March 26, with a grand entry at 7 p.m. Singing and dancing continue until 11 p.m. Events begin at 11 a.m. March 27 and 28, with grand entries at 1 and 7 p.m. March 27 and 1 p.m. March 28. Doors close at 11 p.m. March 27. The Pow Wow ends at 6 p.m. March 28.

For more information, visit the Web at www.umich.edu/~powwow; call the Pow Wow Infoline, 64-POW99, or Shannon Martin, 763-9044.