Experiencing powwow at Virginia Tech
Colorful regalia, drums, food, and a celebration of Native culture - right in the middle of Virginia Tech. At noon April 29, the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center in partnership with Native at VT will host the spring 2023 powwow.
Powwow honors traditional Native gatherings by incorporating Indigenous values such as respect, tradition, and generosity — offering an opportunity for the university community to experience Indigenous culture firsthand. According to Melissa Faircloth, the center's director, powwow is Virginia Tech's “opportunity to not only experience Native culture, but to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Native community members on campus.”
The Virginia Tech powwow started as Faircloth’s Diversity Scholar project in 2017 and has morphed into an intertribal event that creates visibility and increases cultural education for the Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and surrounding communities.
“It is a wonderful learning experience, a way to share Native culture, and a time to recognize and celebrate this small but mighty force on campus,” Faircloth said.
This year's powwow will include two head dancers, an arena director, drum groups from both northern and southern traditions, and a master of ceremonies. The master of ceremonies for this year’s is Rufus Elliott '07, who was the first Monacan graduate of Virginia Tech.
Serving as the master of ceremonies for the powwow is especially meaningful for Elliot, as there were no celebrations of this kind on campus during his time as a Virginia Tech. He underlined this importance by citing university history. In 1862, the Morril Act established the land-grant university system, which was funded through the sale of land acquired through the forced removal of Native nations from western territories. Virginia Tech acknowledges this history in its land and labor acknowledgement and states commitment to “changing the trajectory” of this history through sustained and meaningful engagement with Native nations, particularly the Tutelo and Monacan peoples who are the original stewards of the land on which Virginia Tech is built. To Elliot, “it is important for these events to happen because it educates the community and shows Virginia Tech is going beyond the first step of acknowledging their role in displacing Natives.”
Emily Wilkins, a member of the Monacan community who now works at Virginia Tech in the Moss Arts Center, will be the head female dancer. In reflecting on what it means to have powwow at Virginia Tech, Wilkins shared that it is “a beautiful party” and encourages everyone across New River Valley and the university community to participate. She added she feels this is a great way to get involved and learn about various Native cultures.
“It’s great to have VT spreading awareness, acknowledgement, and moving forward with meaningful ways of getting the community involved,” said Wilkins.
The 2023 powwow will take place Saturday, April 29, at noon on the Graduate School lawn. The rain location is the Gradute Life Center Multipurpose Room. The community will have an opportunity to participate in various activities, purchase Native-made items, interact with vendors selling arts and crafts, enjoy food, and watch a cooking demonstration.
On the day of the event, attendees will be encouraged to participate in specific social dances that are open to the public. There are important points of etiquette to follow at this and any powwow, some of which have been listed below.
- Listen to the master of ceremonies. He will announce who is to dance, and when. He will also let you know when you can take photos/record and when you cannot and which dances include an invitation to the general public to join.
- Show respect to the flags and Honor Songs by standing during “special songs.”
- The Flag Song, or Indian National Anthem, is sung when the American flag is raised or lowered. Please stand and remove hats during the singing of this song. It is not a song for dancing.
- Certain items of cultural significance should be worn only by those qualified to do so. Respect the traditions. This includes headdresses.
- The drums are sometimes closed, check with the head singer for permission to sing.
- If at any time you are uncertain of procedure or etiquette, please check with the master of ceremonies, arena director, or head singer. They will be glad to help you with your questions.
- If taking pictures, remember common courtesy and ask permission. Group photographs are usually alright to take, but you might want to ask the committee first.
- Animals are not typically allowed unless they are service animals.
- Do not point, make fun of, or attempt to imitate a dance(r). Remember that this is culture and that principles of community apply.
- Have fun!
For more information and ways to participate and get involved with the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center, contact Melissa Faircloth (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Written by Zuleka Woods