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Wesley Thomas
First Nations at IU

George Vlahakis

Last modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Native American organization presenting inaugural pow wow at IU Bloomington

Events will foster remembrance, renewal, awareness

EDITORS: This release is a revised version of an article by Susan Williams that first appeared in IU Home Pages.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In a flourish of traditional drums, dancing and regalia, American Indians will gather in Bloomington on March 29 and 30 to share history, culture and arts at the inaugural First Nations at Indiana University Pow Wow.

The event will include nearly 40 booths of authentic American Indian arts and crafts. A highlight will be performances by drum groups, singers and gourd dancers, and the ceremonial "Grand Entries" of American Indians representing tribes from across the United States and perhaps Canada into the IU Fieldhouse for traditional dancing.

The pow wow events will begin at 6 p.m. each night and also at noon on March 30. All events will be open to the general public, and admission will be free. The IU Fieldhouse is located at the corner of 17th Street and Fee Lane on the north side of the IU Bloomington campus.

A lecture series will begin on March 28, with presentations by faculty from the University of Colorado and the University of Toronto, by a Menominee poet and by a Dine' storyteller and folklorist. (Details are provided in the accompanying release.)

Wesley Thomas, IU assistant professor of anthropology and organizer of the event, said the pow wow is a pan-Indian function that is at once sacred and social. It is an opportunity for remembrance and renewal for the traditional American Indian, a way to revisit the beliefs and traditions of ancestors.

Thomas, who is Navajo, said that having the pow wow at IU Bloomington also is important as an educational opportunity for the university community and the general public.

"We are a university that is dedicated to diversity, but Native Americans are missing from the academic agenda," Thomas said. "Also, a lot of information about American Indians is not in U.S. history books. In both instances, the pow wow is a way to bring cultural awareness to the general public and an effort to dispel the stereotypes we still have of American Indians."

Thomas said there are 554 different Native American tribes in the United States, and that the last census showed close to 40,000 Hoosiers are of American Indian descent. Because of the open and welcoming nature of pow wows, he said he has no way of knowing how many participants will be at the FNIU event, especially since this is its inaugural year.

Thomas said there are 27 categories of American Indian dance, and many pow wows feature dance competitions among the various tribes. The IU pow wow will feature just a few inter-tribal dances instead. First-time observers can look to Leroy Malaterre, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa who will be master of ceremonies, and Dana Leroy, a Ponca who will be arena director, for commentary that will explain pow wow tradition and etiquette.

The dancing cannot happen without the drum, an essential part of American Indian culture. The FNIU event will include northern and southern host drums. The northern drum features the faster drum beat and higher-pitched singers that are characteristic of northern American Indian tribes, while the southern drum represents the slower beat and lower pitch of southern tribes.

Because this is an open pow wow, all Native drums and dancers are welcome to join the host and invited drums. The Lake Vermillion Singers of Tower, Minn., will be the northern host drum and the Omaha Whitetail Singers of Macy, Neb., will be the southern host drum. Other invited drums will be the Kingfisher Singers of Nashville, Ind., and the Moccasin Trail of Mooresville, Ind.

As has become traditional at pow wows, the Gourd Dance will be performed as a prelude to each of the three scheduled grand entries. All Native American dances have a special meaning, and the Gourd Dance, originated by the Kiowa, is a warrior's dance.

The Grand Entry will follow a specific order with American Indian veterans of the U.S. military leading the processional in native regalia and with American, state and tribal flags. Older men, who will dance the traditional dances of their various tribes, will follow, and then will come the younger men, who will dance more contemporary dances.

People attending their first pow wow should be aware of basic etiquette, which, according to Thomas, is mostly simple respect and common sense. For example, ask permission before taking photos of dancers before, during or after dances. Flashes are distracting, and some dances are sacred and should never be photographed. Also, a dancer's clothing is a treasure, an expression of history, with some regalia handed down through generations. Always ask permission to touch regalia.

The pow wow is being sponsored by the IU Office of the Vice President for Student Development and Diversity, the IU Office of Research and the University Graduate School, the IU Office of Multicultural Affairs, the IU Department of Anthropology, the Indiana Memorial Union and the Bloomington Visitors Bureau.

For more information about the pow wow or the lectures, contact Wesley Thomas, IU assistant professor of anthropology and organizer of the event, at 812-855-3862 or Information also is available at