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A Proud Tradition

Pow Wow celebrates Native American heritage

Jiles Pourier '08 had worked and waited all year to be part of the 33rd annual Dartmouth College Pow Wow.

"It's finally here! I can't believe it," Pourier said on Saturday, May 7, as he stood by the student-run information tables that greeted visitors and participants entering the Leverone Field House. For Dartmouth's Native American population, this intertribal dance and cultural celebration-the second largest gathering of its kind in New England-is the year's culminating event.

Pow Wow on Dartmouth's campus
The Pow Wow on Dartmouth's campus each May is one of the largest of its kind in New England.

A Lakota Sioux from South Dakota, Pourier is one of about 160 Native American students enrolled at Dartmouth; that's the most in the College's history. The annual weekend-long Pow Wow is run by them and other students, members of the Native American Program (NAP), and others in the campus's Native community who prepare for it all year long. Most of the student organizers spent Pow Wow weekend working behind the scenes, wearing NAP and Pow Wow T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Pourier, though, wore his full tribal regalia: breastplate of buffalo horn, apron crafted in a star-quilt pattern of tiny beads, headdress of eagle feathers and porcupine quills, and a trailing bustle of long eagle feathers.

"My family does my beading, my mom made the apron, and my uncle makes my outfits," Pourier said. "This is the outfit you would see from my people."

Pow Wows emerged from Plains Indian culture and are generally held in the warm season. Though dwarfed in scale by many Pow Wows in the American West, Dartmouth's event looms large in the region, drawing Native drum groups, dancers, families, and many others from around the Northeast.

The Grand Entry showcased its spectacle as participants paraded onto the field house floor in a panoply of tribal regalia that was beaded, feathered, fringed, and glittering across a bright spectrum of colors. A series of lively dance competitions followed for both men and women.

"For a lot of the students, especially those from Pow Wow cultures, this is bringing a piece of home to campus," notes Michael Hanitchak '73, director of the Native American Program.

"Pow Wow allows us to celebrate our culture, and it helps us educate the student body and the Upper Valley community," says event chair Josh Clause '05, a Mohawk from Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. "It's great to have an event of this magnitude. It's all student-run, and that's a proud thing for us."

Pourier and Kim Alsenay '05, a White Mountain Apache from White River, Ariz., were assistant co-chairs this year.

"This is our weekend to celebrate our culture and dance," says Alsenay. "I think that's important, considering what Dartmouth was originally founded for."

According to its 1769 charter, the College was created in part "for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land." Hanitchak notes that "for 200 years, Dartmouth's commitment to Indian education languished until the administration of John Kemeny, but in the last 34 years, we have brought over 800 Native students to Dartmouth and can now proudly say we are truly living up to our original charter."

"We need to keep that presence here and keep it strong," Alsenay says. "It's a lot of hard work to accomplish this Pow Wow for the 33rd year in a row, but as Native students, we have a commitment to fulfill."


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Last Updated: 5/30/08