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Powwow makes a comeback

BY SHANE ERSLAND | APRIL 13, 2009 7:40 AM

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Thunderous drum beats, raging chants, and wild screaming filled the IMU Main Lounge April 11 as roughly 250 American Indian dancers competed to show their ancestral pride.

The dance and drum competitions were a part of UI Powwow, run by the UI American Indian Student Association. The cultural event has been on a four-year hiatus since 2004 — in the past, UI Powwow was one of the UI’s largest events, some years drawing more than 7,000 people. The April 11 turnout, before the 7 p.m. competition, was around 1,300 people.

American Indian Student Association co-head Theresa Heitz said the group stopped holding the event because of the small number of members the organization carries — typically between 10 to 20 students.

“With such a large event, it becomes too much for the group to handle,” the UI junior said. But the organization has received continual requests from UI students and Iowa City community members to bring the celebration back, she said.

In past years, Carver-Hawkeye Arena hosted the powwow. This year’s move to the IMU was planned to help the American Indian organization — currently made up of 15 members — manage the event. Heitz said the smaller venue, along with fewer attendees and vendors, allowed the staff to better oversee the day’s activities.



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This year’s competitions were separated into two sessions — at noon and 7 p.m. — when dancers and drummers competed for cash prizes. Brightly clad dancers, complete with feathered head gear and festive bracelets, were judged by their performance and dress. Judges docked points if a performer lost part of their outfit during their methodic dance.

One of the performers, 24-year-old Isaiah Stewart, said he and many other Powwow participants travel to similar celebrations each weekend. Money is not his main motivation for dancing, he added.

“It makes me feel good,” the Lawrence, Kan. native said. “I feel strong when I dance.”

Between the dance and drum competitions, attendees browsed vendor areas, munching on Indian tacos and fried bread.

Throughout the day, UI junior and vendor Jennifer Nesahkluah sold pieces of pottery between $25 and $60 with all of her proceeds going to Heat Native America Fund, a nonprofit organization she founded.

“Our goal is to offset the effects of American Indian poverty,” the 34-year-old said.

UI junior Mike Kelso said he attended the event to experience a new culture.

“It’s good that people do these events to keep their culture and heritage alive,” he said.


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