Powwow celebrates 20 years in Iowa City


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Hawkeye banners and an American flag waved in the air. Two speakers projected loud music. Car doors slammed shut as people enter the organized chaos.

Among these modern happenings in the University of Iowa Recreation Center, a tradition centuries old is occurring amid it all — a celebration of dance and community for the American Indian community, also known as Powwow.

The University of Iowa American Indian Student Association held its 20th-annual Powwow this past weekend, which has taken place since 1990.

Powwows are a celebration of Native American culture, including dancing competitions, and enjoying food, music, and art. The American Indian Student Association was founded in 1989, and a year later they held the first Powwow at the Recreation Center with roughly 450 attendants.

Over the years, the interest in the Powwow has fluctuated — one year the Powwow was held in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and on the other hand, there was a four-year hiatus. The Powwow returned in 2009.

“This should be the 24th anniversary,” said Joe Coulter, a UI professor of community and behavioral health. “That’s what I’m mad about. We are building up [to where we were].”

It was American Indian Student Association President and UI freshman Kyleshawn Stead’s first year involved in the Powwow, but he has been involved in Native American culture since he was born. He lived on a reservation in South Dakota and said coming to the UI, there was a bit of a culture shock.

“Coming here has opened my insights,” Stead said. “Not many people know about Native Americans and the culture. This is a way for them to experience it.”

Coulter, who has attended the Powwows since 1990, believes there is room for improvement in making the Iowa City community aware of the Native American community.

“The reputation [of the American Indian community] is better than the past,” Coulter said. “What’s important is the outreach work with the community. This event is very important [in doing that].”
One graduate student said the size of the student association could also use improvement and that would in turn help the Powwow.

“We’d like to see a stronger program,” UI graduate student Leah Slick-Driscoll said. “There are very few native students [in the association]. It’s hard to put on an event of this size with a small number of students.”

Many people of all ages came to the event dressed in bright colors and adorned in shiny beads, feathers, and tassels.  The Powwow offered a competition between the dancers, with prizes to be won.

“I’ve been dancing since I could walk,” Wisconsin resident Jasmyne Collins said. “You mostly do it in the summer, and then you have to keep [practicing] up in the winter.  I do it to keep up my culture.”

Another dancer said the Powwow is unique in the sense that Iowa does not have many other celebrations in the state.

“There aren’t a lot of powwows in Iowa,” Ames resident Joseph Cortes-Gurule said. “I live in Ames right now, so you come to the ones you can.”

Powwow attendants hope the experience will continue to grow and the community will remain interested in supporting the culture.

“Every year, you get more and more people who return,” Slick-Driscoll said. “Vendors return and people come to expect that as well. We hope it keeps growing and also for a bigger student group.”

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