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Annual Powwow to move from Ann Arbor to Saline

BY MALLORY BEBERMAN
For the Daily
Published March 4, 2009

The Ann Arbor Dance for Mother Earth Powwow, which has been a University tradition since 1972, will be held outside of Ann Arbor for the first time in almost 20 years.

Each April, Native Americans nationwide gather alongside University students and Ann Arbor community members to kick off the national powwow season with the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow.

After refusing direct funding from the University, the Native American Student Association decided to hold the 37th annual powwow in the neighboring town of Saline at the Saline Middle School on Apr. 4 and 5, instead of its usual location, Crisler Arena.

Rackham Graduate School student Conner Sandefur, a member of NASA, said the move reflects NASA’s desire to redirect the powwow’s management away from the University’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and back to the Native American community.

Sandefur said that while MESA has done a great job planning the event in the past, the red tape of University bureaucracies do not allow Native American students to have as much direct involvement with the Native American community as they would like.

“We are taking back our central control of the powwow to honor our community,” he said. “One of the great things that have happened this year is we have been able to connect with the greater community. Native American students get to meet elders who feel comfortable coming because it’s not within the confinements of the University setting.”

Amer Ahmed, associate director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, told the Ann Arbor News yesterday that the University will respect the group's decision to relocate the powwow.

"The University of Michigan has been proud to support the Ann Arbor Powwow in whatever capacity the community felt comfortable with," he told the News.

Ojibwe Lecturer Howard Kimewon, who has attended the powwow in the past, said he hopes that the move will bring back traditions that have been absent in the past.

“I think that people are starting to wake up now,” he said. “Last year, tradition wasn’t there at all, it was all governed by the University of Michigan.”

Sandefur also said one of the major reasons for the move is the controversy surrounding about 1,900 Native American remains currently located in the University's Museum of Anthropology.

University officials maintain that they can’t turn over any of the artifacts because the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires them to keep all artifacts that are not considered “culturally identifiable.” But last March, members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe asked the University to return culturally identifiable objects, of which they claim ownership.

Sandefur said one of the reasons NASA is relocating the powwow is because the remains have yet to be returned.

“(We are making) a statement that this is a wrong thing and that Michigan is supposed to be the leaders and the best,” Sandefur said. “Let’s be a leader and return the remains.”

Kimewon said he thinks the remains should no longer be housed at the University.

“I strongly believe that native human remains should go where they belong in the Earth and finish their journey,” he said.

Though the powwow won’t be at its usual home this year, Sandefur expects that the attendance rate will remain high. He added that they will be offering free shuttles from the Michigan Union to Saline Middle School.