Student Organization continues Native American tradition
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 16:04
Students and families throughout the region gathered Saturday for a powwow held at the Old Track Field at the University of Rhode Island.
The Native American Student Organization (NASO) held its third-annual spring powwow to a crowd of approximately 350.
“A powwow is a gathering of Native American people,” current outgoing president Christian Perez said. “The main focus [of the powwow was for] fellowship and [the ability to] network with other individuals.”
Perez said the event was open to anyone who wanted to attend.
“It’s not just open to the Native American people,” Perez said. “[It’s open to] people of [any ethnicity], cultures and races as well.”
According to Perez, each year’s powwows host craft vendors from the area who come to sell their goods. This year, there were nine vendors, each selling a different good. Perez said one vendor sold moccasins, one had jewelry and another had wampum, among others. Wampum, Perez said, is a specific form of jewelry made from quahog shells.
Merriam-Webster states wampum, a shortened form of the word wampumpeag, is the use of “beads of polished shells strung in strands, belts or sashes and used by North American Indians” as decorations, currency or “ceremonial pledges.” The Online Etymology Dictionary writes that the word wampum may come from the Narragansett tribe whose word wanpanpiak means, “string of white (shell beads).”
Perez said the money raised by NASO for the powwow is going to be used in order to pay back the President’s Fund as well as the Interim Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer Abu Bakr, both playing a large role in NASO’s ability to put on the event. Perez said after his funding was pulled, he went out to the university to plead his case. He said he didn’t want the event to be cancelled and have people show up, wonder, “Where’s the powwow?” and be upset. He added that he didn’t want to give URI and his organization a bad name and with the help of Bakr, he was able to find funding.
“My favorite part [of the event] is seeing everyone come together and having fun and enjoying the time,” Perez said. “[We] also try to get the crowd involved by doing an intertribal dance. We invite everyone to come and dance in the circle.”
This year featured the Mystic River Singers from Connecticut and Eastern Suns from Massachusetts. According to American Indian Inc., the Mystic River Singers is a drum group formed in 1991 on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Connecticut. Perez said the Eastern Suns are popular in New England among the Native American community.
Other events held were Native American dances, face painting, men’s fancy dancers and women’s fancy shawl, among others. This particular powwow was special for those who attended because of the appearance of a hoop dancer. Lane Jensen, a well-known hoop dancer was able to make it out to NASO’s powwow.
“[It’s] rare to find them,” Perez said. “They are only from out west [and so is] that style of dancing. [Jensen] happened to be in the area going from powwow to powwow. It’s such an amazing style of dancing.”
Perez said hoop dancers don’t use their hands to pick up the hoops; instead they use their feet. “It’s phenomenal to see that,” he said. “Even some high school students—URI prospects—thinking about coming here [came to] the powwow. Just seeing that and a bunch of elders from various tribes in New England shows that there is a future for our organization at URI.”
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