UI Powwow celebrates culture with song and dance


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For Orriena Snyder, the University of Iowa Powwow is more than just another cultural event.

The sophomore’s parents are UI alumni and attending powwows was an integral part of her upbringing. That’s what motivated Snyder to help popularize the UI Powwow, which returned last year after a five-year hiatus.

“It was really important to me to help bring back the University of Iowa Powwow,” she said.

On Sunday, Snyder dashed from place to place across the Recreation Building as she helped organize the 17th two-day event, hosted by the UI American Indian Student Association.

Dancers in brightly colored, feathered regalia moved to the beat of pounding of drums. Vendors sold fry bread, an authentic Native American dish. Artists peddled hand-made jewelry and other merchandise.

The Powwow returned last year after the hiatus — which, Snyder said, was largely caused by graduating seniors and a lack of student involvement.

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According to the UI Registrar, there were 156 Native American students enrolled in the fall of 2009 — up from 136 Native American students in the fall of 2005.

Over the weekend, dancers ventured to the UI from across the Midwest and competed in various styles of dance, including grass dancing for men and jingle dress dancing for women.

Dancing is an especially important tradition for Carmen Clairmont. Three of her children and six of her grandchildren participate in Native American dancing, which she said has been vital to keeping her family connected.

“That’s my passion in life, to keep on dancing,” the 59-year-old said.

During the weekend, dancers competed in more than 26 categories for $19,000 in prizes.

Tony Richards, an electrician and maintenance man, uses traditional Native American dance and song to motivate young boys and keep them out of trouble.

“My biggest competition is the streets,” he said.

Richards said cultural celebrations such as the powwows have helped revive what was once a dying culture.

Snyder, a business major, said celebrating and remembering that cultural heritage is a large component of the UI Powwow.

She’s trying to keep that alive with her involvement in the American Indian Student Association, in which both of her parents were also members.

Ultimately, Snyder said she hopes the UI Powwow gives people new perspectives on Native Americans and their way of life.

“It’s a really different way of viewing the world,” she said.

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