Pow-wow in the pines: Native Americans United Club brings festival to NAU
BY GEOFFREY KIE —
There are 22 Native American tribes in Arizona, and a majority of them are located in the northern Arizona region, but other indigenous people travel far and wide to share their culture through what is called a pow-wow. Although this is nothing new to Flagstaff, students of Northern Arizona University (NAU) had the opportunity to see such festivities for themselves.
The Native Americans United Club (NAUC) invited the whole community to watch the vivid colors, immense drum beats and quick feet that took place in the Fieldhouse on March 30 and 31.
Families and friends came from all corners of Indian country to dance and sing at the pow-wow. Colors of all sorts with intricate patterns were the norm as dancers of all ages walked around. The sounds of a jingle dress are seldom heard on campus, but it gave the whole environment a different kind of charisma. The pow-wow was also home to some vendors who sold earrings, bracelets and other types of Native American regalia. The entire field house was filled with people of all ages, entranced by the compelling performance.
Several departments, such as the Office of the President, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, English Department, Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe and more, sponsored the event. Supporters came from all over Flagstaff and Native Americans for Community Action were present to promote their Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI), as both are major issues in a number of Native American communities.
“It’s a way to involve all Native American traditions or beliefs into one area [and] just to have everyone come out and watch some of these dances because they all have different meanings behind them,” said Sean Begay, NAUC president.
NAUC had some difficulty with logistics in the beginning, but with the help of their pow-wow MC Rick Yazzie, the club has become more organized. Yazzie has been involved in the pow-wow circuit for a few decades and knows exactly what it takes to put on a successful event.
“Way back in the early ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a pow-wow every year in Flagstaff,” Yazzie said. “Everyone from the reservations would come out with a wagon train, but one thing I see is that it’s cultural. We let everyone know that we are still here, still dancing and still having a good time, Indian-style. My duty as an MC is to keep the crowd informed and I must have the knowledge to elaborate on what kind of dances there are. I just keep the pow-wow rolling. I grew up with pow-wow, so I was dancing in the early ‘60s; I have been dancing for about 50 years.”
With so much experience in the realm of being a pow-wow MC, Yazzie has been one of the major players in making this event come into fruition. Yazzie helps with organizing and guiding the Native Americans United Club so they can learn and know what to expect for the future. Yazzie has been an MC for more than 10 years, and often speaks in fluent Navajo at events as a reflection of the community. Elders come from great distances to support the dancers and singers and many of the elders only speak Navajo. Songs are understood and it gives an individual a feeling of pride in their identity.
The Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) is another pow-wow sponsor. Members of the organization believe pow-wows encourage pride in being Native American.
“[MSPI] is funded through Indian Health Services,” said Brandy Judson of NACA. “The purpose of this program is to provide direct therapy for clients who may be exercising suicidal thoughts. The other is to increase protective factors in the community. One of the ways to do that is to increase a cultural connection. Pow-wows bring people together and increase connection not just with culture, but with family community increases a sense of belonging; that’s why we want to be involved. Youth having these positive [events] happening around them increase that sense of connection and shows them it’s a good thing to be proud of your culture and be proud of who you are.”
The celebration entertained crowds and reinforced the Native American culture. It was a great cultural experience for those new to pow-wows and it brought back a feeling of home for those who have danced or sang for years.