American Indians embraced their culture and community through celebration on campus last week.

The Nizhoni Days Honoring Our Alumni Pow Wow, which took place at Johnson Field, is the culmination of a weeklong event, Nizhoni Days, to celebrate American Indian culture.

The events ran parallel to the Gathering of Nations, during which American Indians come to participate in cultural sharing as well as compete in dancing and drum competitions and pageants.
Irene Edwards, a Southern dancer who danced in Nizhoni Days, said she dances to feel more connected to her childhood growing up in Pawnee, Okla.

“When I’m out there dancing I know who I am,” she said “I’m Pawnee, I’m Cheyenne and that’s who I am. My ‘Indian-ness’ fills back up and I’m back to being Indian.”

By Britney King
Irene Edwards poses for a portrait at the Nizhoni Days Honoring Our Alumni Pow Wow Sunday on Johnson Field. Edwards is from Pawnee, Oklahoma and is part of the Pawnee Cheyenne tribe.

Kiva Club President Makhpiya Black Elk said Nizhoni Days has run on and off for 57 years. He said the event is sponsored by many organizations, both native and non-native, in an effort to create a more affordable alternative to the Gathering of Nations.

“By the time you pay for parking, to get in and then to buy something to eat, how much money did you just spend?” he said. “It’s really beautiful that it creates community, but what’s not good about it is how much you charge the people.”

Michelle Sanderson, an American Indian dancer from Canada, said she started dancing at 13 when her mother encouraged her to dance in a jingle dress. She said a jingle dress is a dress with cone-shaped metal sewn to the fabric. The cones hit one another to create a sound of hollow aluminum cans banging together.

Sanderson said that when she attends powwows she feels more comfortable and connected to something bigger than herself, which for her is a global community of native people.

“We have our own places that you can totally be your own self at,” she said. “There’s a certain understanding of the way we talk and the jokes we tell. These are one of the safe spaces for aboriginal people in general, so when I come here I feel uplifted to be in a place that’s so supporting of me and affirming.”

She said the jingle dress has a deeper meaning, and that it was meant to heal illnesses that were the result of contact with Europeans. She said a popular dance called the Fancy Dance was invented by Native Americans who went on tours to Europe as a way to entertain and earn money for those who performed it.

“It really hit it off,” she said. “Indian people really like it because it’s so fantastic and fast and even now it’s one of the greatest attractions.”

Sanderson said every piece of her dance outfit has a purpose. She said the matching beaded leggings and earrings make her outfit stand out.

“It’s somewhat a competition to see who has the nicest bead work and it says something about the worth of a woman when you can sit there long enough to create something so beautiful,” she said. “It shows how you’re able to take that patience and put that on a family.”

Edwards said the leggings she wears can cost up to $1,000 if they are not handmade.

Edwards said she enjoys dancing because it gives her the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate her surroundings.

“We dance in a way that is graceful and we dance on this Earth and we have a prayer,” she said. “It’s kind of like a prayer when we’re dancing; you’re expressing a prayer while you’re dancing.”