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Carolina Indian Circle Powwow celebrates native heritage

Junior Philip Stacks is half Native American but he has not always known about that part of his heritage.

That changed when Stacks joined the Carolina Indian Circle, which hosted the 24th Annual Carolina Indian Circle Powwow on Saturday in Fetzer Gym.

“I wasn’t really in touch with my native heritage, but being in the Carolina Indian Circle has helped me learn about my culture, and more importantly, making connections with other Native Americans,” said Stacks, who is also the president of the University’s chapter of Phi Sigma Nu, an American Indian fraternity.

More than 200 dancers, singers, students and alumni attended the powwow, a traditional Native American gathering that involves dancing, singing and decorative dress. It lasted from noon to 7:30 p.m.

The mood was festive, with vendors selling native and non-native food outside, arts and crafts tables set up around the gym and several drum circles singing and drumming for the dance competition.

Elaborate clothing and accessories sparkled and jingled as dancers moved their feet in rhythm with the drums. Men wore bells on their ankles, women wore feathers in their hair and all the dancers were adorned in a large variety of colors and textures.

Some students participated in the competition, but most of the dancers were regular competitors who travel to powwows all over the country.

Thirteen-year-old Devon West said he was excited to participate in the dance competition.

“It’s my culture and I like dancing,” he said, adding that he made his elaborate dance regalia with his parents and family.

Sophomores Abby Andrews and Kelly Olesiuk said they came to the event for a Native American film class they are taking, and that they were surprised by the large crowd.

“I didn’t expect this many people to be here,” Andrews said.

Olesiuk said she thought the event would be more ceremonial.

“I didn’t realize there would be a dance competition,” she said. “I thought it would be a ceremony, but the ceremony was incorporated into the dance.”

Other students were drawn to the event when they walked by the gym.

“We were walking back to our dorms and it sounded interesting,” said Tyler Tran, a sophomore. “I’m surprised to see how many little kids there are here.”

The University usually has the largest powwow of any college on the east coast, said Coty Brayboy, a senior and dancer at the event who said he has been going to powwows his whole life.

Powwow co-chairwoman Whitney Bullard said it is important to focus on the Native American heritage at UNC because it represents such a small percentage of the University’s population — less than 1 percent.

“We want to let people know that we’re out there,” Bullard said.

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