Annual pow wow sends message that the tribes did not fade away


PORTLAND, Ore. - A young Anglo man in his 20s was watching the salmon jump
in the river when someone mentioned the Indians. "Indians," he echoed.
"They're all gone, aren't they?"

If he'd been at Wacipi, Portland Community College's 6th annual pow wow he
wouldn't have said that. A crowd of 1,000 were there with their turkey
feather bustles and rawhide shields with Yeibechi dancers painted on them,
not to mention all manner of tribal regalia: right down to the zigzags of
translucent seed beads in a rainbow of pastel colors.

Members of the committee that organizes the annual event make it clear that
students in their classes would never operate under the mistaken assumption
of the young man watching the salmon. But not only do non-Indians leave
their ignorance about the tribes behind, Indian individuals who have become
estranged from their culture also benefit.

Sociology instructor Dr. Rowan Wolf has been at the college for 10 years
and is one of the co-chairs of the pow wow committee. "I've seen some
rather dramatic things come out of the pow wow," she said. "We have a lot
of indigenous students from a number of cultures around the world, but many
of them do not check the box: they do not self-identify as Native people.
What the pow wow has done is encourage more individuals in this invisible
population to come forward and claim their heritage. I think that has been
tremendously valuable.

"Since the college is in an urban environment, a number of our Native
students are disconnected from not only their tribes but also Native
organizations that might offer various types of support. The pow wow has
served to make some of those introductions as well, since various groups
set up booths and have information available," Wolf said.

"For me that's a really gratifying and humbling part of the process -
students being willing to share who they are and some of that veil of
invisibility and stereotyping mythologies fall away."

To many, it might seem that the Northwest Indian wars in 1877, which
profoundly disrupted tribal cultures and ended just ... importance of what
Portland Community College is doing to honor the American Indian community
and provide support for the annual pow wow. Organizers understand this, as
does new Northern Cheyenne chair of the Division of Behavioral Social
Sciences, Dr. Brooke Gondara. "The college pow wow distinguishes itself
with its social dancing. Instead of being just a contest, it's a community
gathered together to celebrate life. Prize money is not what's driving this
evening's dancing."

So, not only are the tribes still here, they also can dance. They are also
starting to self-identify and check the box, not to mention study their own
history and realize that they are part of an American culture that has
tremendous value. That's what the annual pow wow at Portland Community
College is about: setting a tone, establishing a frame of reference. Making
a place where members of the Indian community can honor one another, preen
just a tad and, especially, have a good time.