Powwow showcases vibrant, living Native American culture

Dancers perform a fancy dance and grass dance during the 39th annual UC Berkeley Powwow. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

On Saturday, the sounds of laughter, song and drums echoed out from the Recreational Sports Facility as some 175 Native Americans from across UC Berkeley and beyond gathered in a day of celebration at the campus’s 39th annual powwow.

Hosted by the Indigenous and Native Coalition’s (INC) Retention and Recruitment Center, the powwow featured traditional dancing and drum circles, native foods, shopping and a scavenger hunt for the youngsters. The powwow increases the visibility of Native Americans and indigenous people at Berkeley, and for some participants, like freshman Lou Montelongo, it is a bridge back to the community she grew up in.f

“Powwows are way to bring communities together,” said Montelongo, who grew up on the Eastern Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina and now serves as the co-coordinator of social retention for INC. “It’s cool to come here and see that powwows in California are like the ones in Carolina. There are dances and values on display here that I remember from back home.”

“I love the native community here,” added Montelongo. “They’re so supportive. I feel like I have family here.”

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Among dance styles on display were Northern and Southern Women’s Traditional Dance, Northern and Southern Men’s Traditional Dance, Women’s Jingle Dance, Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance, Men’s Grass Dance and Men’s Fancy Dance. There were also teen and junior dance categories and prizes for the winners.

For Drew Woodson, a third-year theater and performing arts student at Berkeley and INC’s public relations coordinator, the powwow was an uplifting celebration of a living culture.

“We’re lucky and proud to put on this event every year,” said Woodson. “It’s important because it brings everyone together – people from different communities, different cultures. Unlike going to a museum where you see native artifacts that are so removed and historical, [at the powwow] you get to see what native cultures are like – vibrant and alive. You walk around and see people in regalia. It’s not historical, it’s living and breathing and fun. We like sharing that.”

The powwow was entirely student led and run. Students were responsible for securing a venue, coordinating with vendors and ensuring that the event ran smoothly.

“The powwow is a great way for Native American students retain their culture through experience and leadership,” said Jo-Joe Lee, a program specialist with Native American Student Development at Berkeley who was volunteering at the powwow. “A lot of the people who come to the powwow are people that we don’t know, so it’s a way to build community, honor our elders and tell stories. Plus, it’s a great way for students to feel connected.”

“Above everything else, we are a community of individuals who have come together to lift each other up,” said Woodson. “Being here and seeing native people everywhere is really exciting and invigorating. This is our event and I look forward to every year.”