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Native American culture focus of annual Powwow

Marlene Lacasse/Daily
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BY ANNA ROZENBERG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 18, 2012

While many students chose to engage in St. Patrick Day debauchery this weekend, more than 2,000 people came together at Pioneer High School for the 40th Annual Ann Arbor Dance for Mother Earth Powwow.

Forrest Cox, external co-chair for the University’s Native American Student Association and a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, explained that Powwow aims to feature Native artisans — primarily invited from the Great Lakes area this year — selling merchandise and food, such as authentic sweet bread. The Powwow’s main attraction is the dance competition subdivided into age groups, gender and style.

“It’s not a performance ... It’s not something you see in Hill Auditorium,” Cox said. “It’s a place where the audience can be up and out of their seat and involved.”

Cox said while Powwow used to be held on campus at Crisler Arena, in recent years it has moved off-campus to local high schools, like Saline High School. NASA organized the event at Pioneer this year as a progressive movement to hold the Powwow closer to campus.

“One of the photos that inspires me a lot is in the Union, and it’s a picture of (the event) being (held) in Crisler,” he said.

The event also hosted a number of speakers, including Bunky Echo Hawk — a Pawnee and Yakima artist who designed the N7 shoe line for Nike, which correlates to a seven-generation intertribal idea.

“This is my favorite thing to do,” Echo Hawk said. “Live art where I’m able to travel all over the country and do art all over universities ... in tribal and non-tribal communities.”

Echo Hawk described how his work is based off traditional hide paintings with an updated, modern twist. He painted during the grand entry Saturday afternoon and presented the picture later to attendees later that day.

Echo Hawk said he comes from a line of artists on both sides of his family who “passed cultural knowledge down” to him.

“When (Cox) told me about (the Powwow), it felt significant,” Echo Hawk said. “40 years really spans a long time in our civil rights history.”

Coushatta-affiliated Hunter Burridge competed in the male Fancy Dance section over the weekend.

“(Fancy) is more of a contemporary style dance,” Burridge said. “It’s a crowd pleaser ... (with) cartwheels, flips.”

Though it was Burridge’s first time visiting Michigan, he said he has been dancing for 19 years, since the age of 2.

“Gotta practice, stay at it,” he said. “Just dance your hardest, dance your heart out.”

Vendors at the event had a plethora of crafts, art and clothing for sale. Mildred Hill, a member of the Mohawk tribe, said she learned her craft from friends and neighbors. Hill mainly sells hand-beaded hair ornaments and accessories, and has been on the “Powwow trail” for 40 years, where she dedicates a substantial amount of time to her craft.

Ottowan vendor Pat Shomin explained the long process he and his part-Cherokee wife undertake to hand-make the dream catchers they sell at Powwows.

“First she decorates the ring, then I put the web on it, then she puts the string on it, then she puts the beads on it, then she puts the feathers on it,” Shomin said. “Every color we put out there we know is something special for somebody.”