Washington University showered with both rain and culture
The 27th annual Washington University in St. Louis Pow Wow
This year, the 27th Annual Washington University in St. Louis Pow Wow celebrated the theme of children and youth, embracing the tagline “Honoring our ancestor’s sacrifice: Empowering children today to be the leaders of tomorrow.” Honoring the art and culture of American Indian and Alaska Native communities, the program invited the Washington University community—both those familiar and unfamiliar with native traditions—to experience the cultural knowledge that has been passed down through generations.
Throughout the day on Saturday in Wash. U.’s Field House, masses of people gathered inside and were showered with examples of Native American art and culture as opposed to by the rain outside. Small vending tents surrounded the periphery of the Field House and were occupied with handmade goods and vendors with a background rooted in their culture and people. Turquoise and other natural gems, hand carved wooden flutes and signs citing famous tribal prayers and sayings were among the goods available for viewing and purchase that covered the white tablecloths.
Each of the vendors easily answered questions about their trade and the process of gathering their materials, offering each piece with a sentimental value eons beyond that found at your local target. Traditional Native American food, such as “fry bread,” a deep-fried flat dough originally created in the Navajo community, were also available for purchase and enjoyment.
In the center of the room, a large space remained open for the competitive performance aspect of the afternoon. From participants in full headdress to individuals in their typical jeans and T-shirt, the “Social Dances” encouraged the entire community to partake in the celebratory activities, demonstrating the unity and inclusivity that this art encourages. Those who chose not to perform could still remain up close and personal to the action, walking alongside the dancers while offstage on the main floor of the event. Performances played out to the music of singers and drummers at the side of the stage, creating a sound so loud that being in such close vicinity to the action made it possible to feel your body vibrating to the beat.
With different dances occurring throughout the afternoon, it proved nearly impossible to witness everything this event had to offer in a limited amount of time. Performances included Flag Songs, songs of patriotism, Memorial Songs honoring those who have fought and defend their people in war and Men’s Traditional Dances, which tell the stories of former wars or hunting through smooth, dramatic gesture. Such a wide range of performances added to the eclectic array of Native American music available for the public to experience at the completely free event. Exuding a deep concentration on the song performed while donning ornately colored traditional garb, the dancers demonstrated an extreme dedication to the meaningful artistry of their heritage and the essentiality that lives on in the children learning by their example.
With a theme based on children, it seemed only right that in the corner of the room sat a small children’s area. Children had an opportunity to create dream catchers—a Native American creation meant to save people from the evil spirits and bad dreams—to remain a part of the complex tradition and develop in their role as cultural carriers between generations. In Native American culture, children have the opportunity for their own dances as well, beginning the emphasis on ceremony and ritual starting as early as 2 years old.
If you did not get the chance to make it to this year’s event, be sure to look out for the event in years to come. All are invited to this culturally explorative experience for means of entertainment, knowledge and a powerfully moving experience of art in the real world.