A small but dedicated group of individuals have spent months planning the university’s first powwow, which will take place on April 1 on the Graduate Life Center lawn adjacent to Squires Student Center and the Newman Library.

Free and open to the public, this inter-tribal powwow will welcome all at 11 a.m. with grand entry slated to begin at noon. The opening prayer will be offered by renowned scholar and Native ambassador Henrietta Mann.

The powwow follows the recent Virginia Tribal Summit hosted by the Virginia Tech President’s Office for the purpose of reinvigorating partnerships between the university and the commonwealth’s 11 recognized tribes.

The event offers the campus and local community an opportunity to learn more about indigenous cultures and the land we occupy. In particular, both the summit and the powwow offer acknowledgment of the Tutelo/Monacan people, who are the traditional custodians of the land, water, and air that Virginia Tech consumes.

Native at Virginia Tech, a registered student organization, is committed to advancing the visibility of American Indians and other indigenous peoples on campus, as well as raising awareness of the issues that confront these diverse populations. A Native American powwow is a ceremonial time of renewal and a way for Indigenous people to honor a spiritual connection to their ancestors. It is a gathering to socialize, dance, pray, and celebrate, but where each tribe or individual ascribes personalized meaning.

Organizers of Virginia Tech’s inaugural powwow hope it will increase visibility of indigenous students at Virginia Tech, offering awareness of an existing community to students already enrolled, while potentially creating a draw for prospective indigenous students who may be interested in attending college. Moreover, organizers wish to share their culture while educating the campus and Blacksburg communities.

Doris Brown, of Stafford, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in international studies and French in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences said, “This powwow is important because it not only creates visibility of native students on campus, but gives current and prospective native students a way to engage beyond academics. A great deal of planning goes into this, and we have all worked hard together. I hope this powwow is successful so that the university continues to be supportive in years to come, and we can see an increase in native students on Tech’s campus.”

And while this traditional ceremony is a beautiful experience, it’s important that attendees understand the sacredness of this ritual.

“Cultural appropriation is not OK,” said Brown. “Native regalia should not be mimicked in costume. Most Native Americans don’t have the honor of wearing a headdress, as it is bestowed upon them by their community in recognition of something they have done. Unfortunately, music festivals like Coachella have made it ‘fashionable.’ We want to share our culture and educate at the same time.”

As such, here are some basic etiquette tips shared by Native at Virginia Tech powwow organizers:

  • Listen to the emcees, as they will provide direction at all times (i.e.- when it is appropriate to remove hats and caps, when photos are not allowed, etc.).
  • Dress respectfully. Avoid revealing attire, costumes, or headdresses.
  • Do not touch the dancers or their regalia.
  • Ask before you take a photo of individuals outside the arena and never enter the dance arena for a photo. Remember to listen to the emcee as they will direct when photos are not allowed.
  • Feel free to engage in conversation (at appropriate times) with those around you; ask about what you don't understand, as many will be eager to share and explain their indigenous culture and knowledge.

The powwow is expected to last six hours, with an hour-long intermission at approximately 2:30 p.m. In the event of inclement weather, it will be held in the Old Dominion Ballroom of Squires Student Center. Food and artisan vendors will be present.

Sponsors for this inaugural powwow include: Native at Virginia Tech, Student Budget Board, Division of Student Affairs and Intercultural Engagement Center, American Indian and Indigenous Alliance, American Indian Studies Program, American Indian and Indigenous Community Center, Department of Psychology, College of Engineering, University Libraries, School of Performing Arts, The Graduate School at Virginia Tech, Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, Department of Religion and Culture, Department of Marketing, Department of Management, Department of Sociology, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Diversity Council, Virginia Tech Alumni Association.

Written by Hunter Q. Gresham

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