May 28, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 17

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    Native American powwow on Midway June 2

    Event reminiscent of historic gathering on campus in 1960s

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    The swirling colors and rhythmic dances of an authentic Native American powwow will come to campus Tuesday, June 2, when a Chicago anthropology class hosts a Native American cultural demonstration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Midway Plaisance, across from Ida Noyes Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

    "Some of the dances we'll be doing -- the scalp/victory dance, the Calumet dance, the pipe dance -- are never seen in other powwows," said Rose Ann Abrahamson, a champion Native American dancer and assistant instructor for the anthropology class Topics in Native America: The Powwow.

    "We'll have Aztec dancers and a man doing the hoop dance and the eagle dance -- we hand-picked the best dancers," she said. "This is a tremendous opportunity to learn about the ancient traditional dances once performed in the Midwest and how they were transformed into the ones danced today."

    Abrahamson stressed that, unlike powwows held for the Native American community, this demonstration will explain the culture and history of the powwow. In some dances, the audience will be encouraged to join in.

    Powwows are social events for Native Americans and are held weekly throughout the country to help maintain cultural identity and a sense of community. Many non-Native Americans who attend powwows for the first time are confused by the dances, the drum circles and the rituals, Abrahamson said.

    "Our students can't just be armchair anthropologists," she added, explaining why she and instructor Terri Strauss decided to encourage their undergraduate and graduate students to hold a powwow.

    In part, the event will commemorate a 1961 powwow held at the University when Native Americans were trying to re-establish their identity and were struggling with sovereignty issues. Sol Tax, then Professor in Anthropology, worked with the National Congress of American Indians to gather Native Americans from all over the country to the University to discuss Indian rights. The conference, called the American Indian Charter Convention, was the first of its kind. The attendees held a powwow in celebration.

    The June 2 powwow also will symbolize the need for education -- both of non-native peoples about Native American culture and of higher education for Native Americans, Abrahamson said.

    "I'm getting an excellent education here at the University -- but I'm the only federally recognized Native American on all of campus," said Abrahamson, who will dance at the event. "The powwow partly recognizes that Indian people need to have the opportunity to attend a place like Chicago. We'll leave with a greater perspective and broader horizons. But we also bring to campus a cultural perspective." Abrahamson said she hopes the powwow will influence the University to actively recruit more Native American students.

    The students organizing the powwow also have invited area elementary and high school students to attend so they can learn more about the history of the American Indians who lived, and still live, in the area.

    "We ourselves have learned so much," said Jess Hansbrough, a sophomore in Strauss and Abrahamson's class. "We're learning to bake fry bread and prepare dance grounds. I was so used to hearing people say that Native American culture is dying, but now I realize how alive, how vibrant, the culture is. Powwows are not a recreation of what Native American culture used to be -- they're a manifestation of Native American culture now."

    Powwow schedule

    11 a.m. Grand Entry of dancers, plus a flag song.

    Invocation by Alison Boden, Dean of Rockefeller Chapel. The Lord's Prayer in traditional sign language by Rose Ann Abrahamson, accompanied by the Soul Umoja Gospel choir.

    Zuni Sunrise Song

    Welcome address and brief comments by invited speakers

    11:30 Intertribal dances, dance exhibitions including audience participation. Dances include the Calumet, pipe, scalp, snake and many others.

    12:30 p.m. Hoop Dance and Eagle Dance by Robert Rose

    1 p.m. Performance by Groupo Folklorico -- Aztec dancers -- and other student groups of the Americas.

    1:30 Special recognition presentations

    Traditional Native American arts and crafts and food will be available throughout the event.