David West has made attending Willamette’s Social Pow wow a yearly tradition. In the past, he served as arena director, an important role charged with organizing the ceremonies that make up the event and keeping the flow of the pow wow moving. He also sings, plays the drum and socializes with family and friends.
This year, West and Dietz Peters, the current arena director, had an additional reason to attend. Both men lost their wives over the past couple years, and the Pow wow provided an opportunity to connect with their communities to honor the memories of their lost loved ones.
“The Pow wow is an important part of my coming back to life,” West said. “I’m here to remember, but I’m also here to celebrate.”
West and Peters attend many pow wows throughout the year, but Willamette’s event is special.
“This is one of my favorite pow wows because of the way the students and staff make me feel welcome,” West said. “They work so hard to make this a special event for all.”
The pow wow program
The Willamette University Social Pow wow is presented by the Native and Indigenous Student Union (NISU) and is sponsored by the Native American Advisory Council, Office of Multicultural Affairs and ASWU.
This year marked the pow wow’s 16th anniversary and featured 11 drum groups from as far away as Washington. The host drum — this year it was Algin Scabby Robe & 4 Bands — sings and plays at the beginning and end of the pow wow, takes requests from dancers, and sets the appropriate beat for songs.
After the Grand Entrance, dancers take to the arena at the center of the Cone Fieldhouse and participate in a number of dance styles with a wide range of rhythms. Their intricate regalia includes beadwork, feathers, skins and other objects that hold significance to the dancers or their families. Some of the materials have been passed down through generations.
During some “Intertribal Songs,” members of the audience are invited to participate and learn steps alongside the dancers.
Sharing culture with the world
As the pow wow commenced, attendees enjoyed watching the dancers, listening to the music, learning about traditions and browsing vendor booths featuring Native and Indigenous arts and crafts.
American Studies Program students Mona Asai and Minako Asaka were also there to complete a class project that invited them to learn more about the pow wow and its traditions.
Asai approached dancer Allen Truesdale, who was visiting from Eugene, to ask him a few questions. Truesdale explained the social and spiritual significance of coming to the pow wow and how he shares the experience with family and friends.
“To dance is to pray,” Truesdale explained. “It’s an uplifting experience that includes many old traditions that are passed on to younger generations.”
Truesdale, himself a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, also talked about how veterans are honored during the pow wow and pointed out that his Marine Corps’ pin was part of his regalia.
“I’m so impressed with the outfits … with everything,” Asaka said. “This is something I’ve never experienced.”