Ties between community, family and nature were reaffirmed this weekend at the 30th annual “Dance for Mother Earth” Ann Arbor Pow Wow, a three-day celebration of Native American culture, at Crisler Arena. Honoring Native Americans of the past and present, more than 1,000 singers, dancers, artists and craftspeople participated in one of the premier Native American cultural events in North America.

Paul Wong
Louis Littlewind (right) ties a sack of tobacco to give to a dancer for use during prayer ceremonies.

Originating from the Grass Dance Societies of the early 1800s, Pow Wows gave Native American warriors the opportunity to recreate deeds of wartime bravery through song and dance. Today, pow wows are a medium for preserving traditions through dancing, singing and drum competitions. They are also a time to share with family and friends.

This year’s event gave LSA freshman Zubair Simonson his first taste of what it means to be a part of a Native American community. Originally from North Carolina, Simonson said his exposure to Native American organizations had been minimal.

“This is my first pow wow and I’m really enthusiastic about it. … The community has been very welcoming to me,” he said.

Co-master of ceremonies Thurman Bear said the Ann Arbor Pow Wow was established for the benefit of Native American students at the University.

“We hold the pow wow in Ann Arbor as an opportunity for the students to organize it – it’s an opportunity for them to take what was back home and bring it here,” he said. “There is always a very special mix of people that come to the Ann Arbor Pow Wow,” Bear said, noting that the event’s popularity has grown exponentially throughout its 30-year history.

Larry Godfrey, a third-year pow wow volunteer who has taken part in organizing pow wows in the Upper Peninsula, said the event’s non-traditional indoor setting helps participants celebrate the start of Spring – rain or shine.

“We depended on mother nature to give us our skies,” he said.

LSA senior Tiffany Sharber said showing respect to elders in the community is one of the most important aspects of the pow wow.

Marking the start of each pow wow session is the Grand Entry, a ceremony in which all of the dancers participate in a procession, representing their respective tribes with flags, dressed in full regalia.

Each dance in the Grand Entry is led by one man and one woman, called the Head Dancers, who are responsible for directing the entire group.

After the Grand Entry is the singing of the Flag Song, which represents a tribute to the elders and veterans whose strength and perseverance is honored in the following Victory Song.

One special event is the intertribal dance, where audience members are free to join Pow Wow dancers on the main floor.

“Whether you are red, yellow, black or white – at one time or another we were all once a tribal people,” Bear said. “(The dance) is to show that all human beings can come in and dance. There are no blocked entrance ways.”

“Just being here is my favorite part. We have been able to create our very own community within this building. People from Michigan, Canada and all over the United States are part of this vibrant village,” Bear added.

Detroit resident Robert Mounts said he started dancing at pow wows when he was 14 years old. “It’s my way of saying that for urban Indians … even though we live in the city, we can be Indians too,” Mounts said. “It gives people a chance to see who we really are,” he added.

The event was sponsored by the Native American Student Association and the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs.

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