PowWow raises breast cancer awareness in Native American community

BY ZACHARY POUND | JUNE 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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In a park on the outskirts of Iowa City, the drums of Native American Nations could be heard Sunday as a traditional outfit with feathers, beads, and bells performed songs for women affected by cancer.

In the Native American community, there are social barriers that Native American women encounter while seeking health care, said Judy Morrison, the executive director of the Seven Feathers Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

This is exactly what “The Honoring of the Women of the Sweet Grass Path Powwow” tried to change this past weekend.

“We made this event to honor all women who have battled and are battling with this disease,” Morrison said. “We bring together the community in this Powwow, which is part of Native American traditions and educate the women on breast cancer while at the same time respecting Native American culture.”

The Pink Shawl Project is a group that tries to identify and remove barriers that Native American women encounter when seeking health care by educating the women in the community and encouraging them to access the necessary health-care services.

Morrison, of the Cherokee/Osage nations, said her organization was created to support the development and delivery of technical assistance, services, and research activities to First Nations Peoples living in the Great Plains.

The Iowa Cancer Consortium, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the North Plains Cancer Consortium were sponsors of the Powwow.

At the event, handmade necklaces, nature paintings, traditional music, and handmade wood baskets reflecting the women’s culture were sold.

One thing that wasn’t sold but stood out was special song played on June 11 written for the survivors.
Dancers moved in a circular motion while two to four drummers played on a single drum singing and playing a rhythmic beat as Scott Richards sang.

“We made a special song just for this event to honor the women who have battled this disease,” said Richards, the lead singer of the Lakota Nation Drum from Pine Ridge, S.D.

And people at the event hope that the festivities will leave a lasting impression and spread the message of breast cancer awareness throughout the community.

Rachel Schram of the Iowa Cancer Consortium said she believes that combining the familiarity of a Powwow with the educational information about breast cancer is a good way to overcome the social stigmas that are present in the Native American community.

“It’s really good that were able to reach out in a way that gets positive feedback from the women,” Schram said. “Incorporating the Powwow with the breast-cancer awareness has led to an increase in acceptability in Native American women to get themselves checked.”

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