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Pow wow celebrates Native American culture

Daily News Editor
Published April 3, 2005

Correction Appended: The article should say that Matt Stehney is a member of the committee that coordinated the Pow Wow.

Jess Cox
Geezhig Bressette, age 11, of the Ojibwe tribe in Sarnia Ontarioat performs a ceremonial dance at the Ann Arbor Pow Wow in Crisler Arena on Saturday. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/DAILY)

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Ever since he learned to walk, Sam Funmaker has been dancing.

Wreathed in the sky blue of the bear clan, Funmaker was just one of the hundreds of Native American dancers clothed in regalia who participated in the dance competitions in last weekend’s University-sponsored Pow Wow.

But Funmaker, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, said he does not dance for the prizes.

“I dance to learn my own ways,” he said.

A celebration of Native American culture, the 33rd annual Ann Arbor Dance for Mother Earth Pow Wow was attended by indigenous people from across the continent and nonindigenous members of the local community.

Pow wows gather the Native American community in a spiritual dance that allow participants to express their heritage, said Matt Stehney, Native American Student Association co-chair and Pow Wow coordinator.

Stehney — who is a member of the Taino tribe — said although last weekend’s Pow Wow aimed to honor mother earth, Pow Wows like the University’s can also work to combat misconceptions about Native Americans.

From past to present, Native American culture has been plagued by stereotypes projected by Hollywood and television, he said. These misconceptions lead the public to believe Native Americans still live in the past.

“There are people walking around campus who think I live in a teepee, or they ask where my feathers are,” Stehney said.

While the dancers at the pow wow were dressed in traditional attire, Stehney said nonnative onlookers also saw that many Native Americans dress in blue jeans and wear T-shirts just like them.

He added that the public will see authentic Native American culture in its appropriate context, rather than how the media has wrongly portrayed it.

“This is something we use to teach nonnatives who we are. … We want people to know that we aren’t an obsolete people,” he said.

At the same time, the pow wow instills pride in the Native American community and allows members to pass on their traditions to the next generation, he added.

Ojibwe dancer Jerry Cleland agreed with Stehney.

Jerry Cleland said he dances the traditional style derived from the combat warriors of his tribe. Although times have changed, Jerry Cleland said that when dances, he preserves the same spirit of those warriors. Now, he said, he sees the younger generations at the Pow Wow following the same traditions.

“Each generation has to be told (the traditions),” he said.

That same understanding of Native American culture needs to be transmitted to nonnative peoples as well, Jerry Cleland said.

“It’s about being Indian. If you understand me, we don’t have conflict,” he said.

While the origins of the pow wow still remain unclear, Jerry Cleland’s son Wayne Cleland said it originated with the Omaha people of the west. The tradition then slowly migrated to the east, becoming a custom that spans all Native American tribes and even extends to nonnative people.

Of the drums used in the Pow Wow, Wayne Cleland said, “The drum has a heart beat. Every nation has a heart beat. That heart beat is universal.”

LSA sophomore Kathy Xie said she decided to attend the pow wow to gain a true understanding of Native American culture.

“This is where they show everyone who they are,” she said.