Powwow at IU offers glimpse of Native American culture

By Rick Seltzer | The Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN

Monday, October 28, 2013

A drumbeat filled the room, its throb ebbing and flowing, melding with the voices of dancers who shook rattles and waved feather fans.

The dancers circled a single drum sitting in the middle of the room. Seven drummers played that one instrument, their synchronized beats flowing through the air like layers.

They were performing at Indiana University's Third Annual Traditional Powwow. And Sunday afternoon, they were performing a Gourd Dance.

"It's kind of a spiritual dance," said Charlie Grounds, a Seminole from Evansville who danced. "It gives me a chance to get out there and think and meditate and pray."

This was the first year Grounds took part in the IU powwow, a two-day event at Willkie Auditorium on Rose Avenue. The event opened Saturday and drew visitors from across the continent -- its head staff came from Minnesota, Arizona, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas and the Canadian provice of Manitoba.

It's intended as a way to share arts, culture and history, according to IU. Organizers hope to expand it to become the largest in the Big Ten and one of the premiere powwows in the Midwest. This weekend's powwow was also the lead event for campus observations of Native American Heritage Month.

"There's a large demand for this east of the Mississippi," said Brian Gilley, director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, an IU center that aims to build community and preserve culture between First Nations, indigenous and non-native people.

"IU has a long history with Native American studies," Gilley said. "All this moves toward the goal of retaining Native students, bringing Native students here and strengthening the diversity of the campus."

Powwow etiquette was simple, according to rules listed in the event program. Respect the Elders at all times. Let them be served first at meal time. Offer your seat if they are standing nearby.

Do not touch the dancer's regalia, clothing or jewelry. Do not cut across the dance circle -- walk around it. Donations are encouraged at blanket dances. Wait for the emcee to give directions to dance.

The emcee, Terry Fiddler, came from Red Wing, Minn. He said he was pleased to see a large number of dancers at the event, then talked about history when introducing the Gourd Dance.

"If you see something that you were taught a little differently, respect it," Fiddler said. "There's history behind everything."


Related articles:

November is Native American Heritage Month
Native Americans gathered Oct. 26 and 27 at IU Bloomington to share history, culture, and arts at a traditional powwow.  Other events in November will include lectures and workshops. Most are free and open to the public.

National publication Indian Country Today spotlights Traditional Powwow hosted at IU Bloomington

Lecture at Mathers Museum explores the history and cultural meaning of the powwow