Annual social pow wow connects culture and community

by Russell Yost MBA'05,

  • Pow wow student volunteers
    Student volunteers welcome guests at Willamette's 14th social Pow wow.
  • Pow wow Grandma Aggie
    Agnes Pilgrim, known as "Grandma Aggie," poses for a photo.
  • Pow wow dress
    Dancers wore colorful outfits representing symbols and traditions.
  • Pow wow
    ASP students interviewed dancers at Willamette's 14th social pow wow.
  • Pow wow student volunteer
    Student volunteers helped the arena director and emcee set the program's tempo.
  • Pow wow
    Dancers wore colorful outfits representing symbols and traditions.
  • Pow wow princesses
    Pow wow princesses represented their tribes and people.

Agnes Pilgrim, known to many as “grandma Aggie,” watches on as dancers and drummers organize themselves around the Pow wow arena. At 92 years old, Pilgrim has participated in many events over the years and has gained quite a following. Attendees stop by to greet her, share stories and compliment her outfit’s intricate beadwork.

“It’s important for younger generations to learn about and understand the traditions of their elders,” she said. “This is an opportunity to bring us together.”

Pilgrim and hundreds of others gathered in the Sparks Center’s Cone Fieldhouse for Willamette’s 14th social Pow wow on March 12. The event offers “a time to renew thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage,” with a mix of intertribal and competitive dance and song. Willamette students served as hosts for the event, welcoming guests and staffing concessions. Over a dozen other vendors offered handcrafted art and jewelry.

Bob Tom, Willamette alumnus and member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, served as the Pow wow’s master of ceremonies, setting the tempo for each dance and announcing different events. Tom’s energizing personality and extensive knowledge of Pow wow etiquette made experienced attendees and first-time guests feel welcomed.

The event kicked off with the Grand Entry, where performers and dancers lined up based on dance style and age. The sound of drums invited the group to enter the arena, while Tom outlined specific traditions. The Grand Entry included a color guard provided by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and a flag song that Tom noted, “reminds all of the important responsibilities of native peoples to serve their communities.”

Veterans were recognized for their service and valor, along with Pow wow princesses who are elected to represent their tribes and people.

Students in the American Studies Program (ASP) also attended the event to learn about the traditions of the Pow wow and asked questions of dancers for a course on American studies.

Other activities included various styles of drumming and dancing, including men’s and women’s dances, and a special “jingle dress contest.” The dresses are an art form on their own, created from metal cones made of rolled up tin tops from chewing tobacco cans. The cans are sewed around the dress to create the “jingle” sound.

Steiger Butte of Chiloquin, Oregon served as the Pow wow’s host drum. The Pow wow is presented annually by the Willamette University Native and Indigenous Student Union and is co-sponsored by the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU), Willamette’s Native American Advisory Council and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.