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Michigan State University Students Dance to the Beat of the Annual Powwow of Love

A story about the 30th Annual Powwow of Love at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
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Love is in the air on March 16 for the Native American students participating at the 30th Annual Powwow of Love to be held at Jenison Field House on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan.

“Typically, we had the pow wow in February, close to Valentine’s Day but we moved it to March,” said Jessica Rivard, vendor chair for the pow wow and in charge of public relations for North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO).

NAISO and the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) are sponsors to the traditional and contest pow wow that promises to celebrate the milestone anniversary with special entertainment and recognition of the presence of other Native American student groups.

“This year, with the 30th anniversary, we are recognizing the history of the pow wow. We are having other student groups join us,” said Rivard, who is taking up kinesiology at the university and who is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

She was referring to student groups outside the campus, the Central Michigan University NAISO and the University of Michigan Native American Student Association.

“We are going to have seating available for them. We don’t know if it is a big group but we have seating available. They are doing the same for us in their pow wows,” said Rivard.

Pow wow sponsor NAISO is a home away from home for Native students, she said, adding that the non-profit group helps students excel in college. There are 30 NAISO members and an estimated 150 Native American students enrolled in the University.

ASMSU is the undergraduate student government at the university and advocates student issues. The group provides interest-free loans, legal counsel and funding for student group activities like the NAISO pow wow. 

Rivard said over 2,000 guests typically come to the traditional pow wow. The Saturday gathering opens it doors at 10 a.m., with grand entries scheduled for 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. About 10 to 15 vendors selling food and Native crafts, as well as music and dancing will keep the crowd fed and entertained till 10 p.m.

Among the Native performers are Ryan McMahon, MC; Crazy Spirit, host drum; Crickett Hill Singers, co-host drum; Samsoche Sampson, head male dancer; Lisa Hill, head female dancer; George Martin, head vet; and Will Hedgepeth, arena director.

“This year we have the alumni specials,” said Elaina Leaureaux, hospitality chair of the pow wow and a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

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She said the alumni group is sponsoring the two-step dance contest, with prize money still to be determined.

There are six categories at the pow wow—men’s fancy, traditional and grass and women’s fancy, traditional and jingle. Prize money has been set for a total of $6,000.

“We want to put out a successful pow wow and reach out to as many people as possible,” said Leaureaux.

Another special this year is a free comedy show/concert to be held Friday night. Rivard said they wanted to hold a two-day pow wow and because of budgetary constraint and university restrictions NAISO decided on a different entertainment.

The show, to be held at the university’s Erickson Hall Kiva, features MC McMahon, from Winnipeg, as the Native comedian and Frank Waln, from Rosebud, as the Native hip-hop artist. Show starts at 7 p.m.

Many Native students at the university don’t get the opportunity to be involved with Native American traditions, and the pow wow and the Friday night show are good ways to introduce them to Native American culture.

Leaureaux said connecting with other Native students is important.

“The pow wow has a special place in my heart. It is a great way to socialize,” she said.

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Here are some videos of dancing from previous Powwows of Love: