Saturday morning, attendees congregated at Welsh Ryan Arena for the Northwestern Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance’s (NAISA) 2nd Annual Pow Wow.
Shannon Martin, a member of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, the event’s MC, spoke to guests from the center of the basketball court at the start of the event.
“It’s going to be a mind-blowing experience,” she promised.
This year’s Pow Wow was organized by a committee of seven Northwestern administrators and students led by co-chairs SESP second-year Alivia Britton, a member of the Little River Band of Ottowa Indians, and Communications second-year Mel McDaniel, who is Tyme Maidu. Many of the Pow Wow’s guests hailed from outside the school community.
The nearly five-hour event featured the performances of tribal members from across the midwest, such as the Indian Community School Earth Dance Singers, who came from Wisconsin to be there.
During the event’s opening ceremony, University President Michael Schill stood with Britton and McDaniel as he gave welcoming remarks.
“I am in awe of the people on both sides of me,” he said, later calling the Pow Wow an “important tradition in the tapestry of Northwestern culture.”
Britton and McDaniel spoke about the Pow Wow’s theme of “Honoring the Land” and the broader importance of having a forum on campus to honor their Native American heritage.
“I’ve never felt more comfortable in my Odawa identity,” Britton said, audibly emotional.
During the Pow Wow’s “Grand Entry,” Native American veterans were honored for their service in the U.S. military. According to the United Service Organizations, Native Americans serve in the military at roughly five times the national average.
Vincent Romero of the Laguna Pueblo tribe was among the veterans honored and said that Pow Wows are an important way for Native Americans to control their own narrative.
“We’re minimized,” he said, referring to portrayals of indigenous people in popular culture.
Several other booths lined the mid-level periphery of Welsh Ryan. Some sold jewelry or art and others promoted professional opportunities for Native Americans.
Shelly Tucciarelli, a tribal member of the Oneida Nation, hosted a booth to raise support for two local political initiatives. The first is a bill requiring Native American history to be taught in Illinois schools, which passed the state House of Representatives by a substantial margin last month and now heads to the state senate.
The second is a 45-unit affordable housing project for Native Americans slated for construction in Irving Park, close to Chicago’s American Indian Center. The project will be the first affordable housing development for Native Americans in the city’s history.
For Tucciarelli, Pow Wows are a chance to prove that the Native American story is still being written. “We’re a thriving community,” she said. “A lot of the way we’re depicted is ‘we were here, now we’re gone.’”
Medill Professor Reynaldo Morales, a participant in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, echoed Tucciarelli’s sentiment.
“When we hear land acknowledgments, we hear about nations or tribes that are part of the past,” Morales said. “But the tribes we honor in the land acknowledgments are alive.”