On Saturday, April 12, Mills hosted the second student organized Pow wow, a social gathering for Native American tribes to honor their traditions and cultures through dance and song. The community event included dancers, vendors, food, and prizes.
The event, which has been planned since the beginning of the semester, was organized by members of the Native American Sisterhood Alliance. This is the second year students took the initiative in organizing the Pow wow. In previous years, the Anthropology department hosted the event.
With the help of the Ethnic studies department and Provost Mary Ann Milford, NASA was able to increase funding and support from the administration.
“It’s really significant that Ethnic Studies has had such a big piece in organizing this with NASA,” said Legs Kraus, a member of NASA. “Jean Wong, Professor Williams and Dr. Santana have had our backs in amazing ways and really have contributed a lot of time and energy into this event.”
Cody Manning, a fellow member of NASA, agrees with Kraus, saying, “Last year it wasn’t necessarily an event that would happen every year and now, because it’s an institutional event, it will be something that is planned for every year.”
“I worked with the event for two years and this year I worked closely with faculty to make this happen,” said Provost Milford. “I think it’s a very important event for Mills, as well as for the community.”
The Pow wow included tribal members from Ohlone, Anishinabe, Cherokee, Seminole, and Chaqtaw tribes, among others.
Tribal members danced for prizes in different categories according to age and gender which included traditional, jingle and fancy shawl for girls, and traditional, grass, and fancy dance for boys.
Among the dancers was the ceremonial Aztec dance group, Danza Xitlalli, who performed at Mills in November.
Pow wows generally have a female and male dancer who lead the dances and are known as the Head Lady Dancer and Head Man Dancer – the highest honors bestowed by the Pow wow committee.
This year, NASA asked Charlene Williams, a Mills undergraduate alum from 1996 and a current Mills graduate student, to be the Pow wow’s Head Lady Dancer.
“It was a huge honor to be chosen,” said Williams. “The Head Lady Dancer serves as a role model, a leader, and she also has to get people to dance as much as possible to every song.”
Williams appreciated NASA’s efforts to create an event that was mainly for the community.
“Mills is in the heart of one of the largest urban Indian centers,” said Williams. “This [event] allowed the community to be brought together.”
Also on hand at the Pow wow were vendors selling jewelry, Native American paintings, and hand-made clothing. Food was provided by NASA, who prepared and sold fry bread, stew, and drinks for the crowd to enjoy while watching the Pow wow.
A collection of different Native American organizations were also present, such as the Native American AIDS project, which was represented by Mills alum Esther Lucero.
The project, which has been in action for twelve years, was developed as a response to the epidemic of AIDS in the Native American community. Lucero serves as an HIV case manager and described the importance of representing the project at Pow wows.
“A couple of our staff members were Pow wow dancers and would dance with our logo on their regalia to represent for people living with AIDS and people who’ve crossed over,” said Lucero.
“It’s about bringing awareness to our community to raise awareness that we are at risk.”
For NASA members, the Pow wow was a personal achievement.
“It’s the first time we’ve planned a Pow wow for most of us and we don’t come from Pow wow families so we don’t have a lot of experience,” said Kraus. “None of us are dancers and most of us haven’t made fry bread before. It was something that we could connect with the outside community.”
“I think that it’s really important that Mills gives back to the community beyond our gates and share some of the privileges that we have,” added Manning. “We are on Ohlone land and I think that Pow wows in general are important in the sense in that there are so many ways that Native American communities are disenfranchised through government, through history, and to be able to take the time to celebrate and build community is really important.”