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Sunday February 5th

'Bringing everyone home': Carolina Indian Circle hosts 33rd annual powwow

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The CIC was started in 1974 to provide a community for Native students.  The annual powwow is just one of the many ways that CIC is able to fulfill their three-fold mission, said CIC President Jamison Lowery.

CIC aims to raise awareness about the issues Native Americans face, represent Native culture appropriately and provide a space for Native students to feel supported on UNC’s campus, Lowery said. 

Drums, chants and the ringing of bells echoed through Gym A of Fetzer Hall on Saturday afternoon.

Vendors selling hand-crafted items such as beaded jewelry and PopSockets lined the walls. Spectators sat in a ring of chairs organized around a central space. 

At noon, the gym floor, marked with regulation basketball lines, was transformed into a dance floor as dancers made their grand entry to the 33rd annual Carolina Indian Circle Powwow, a celebration of Native culture and tradition.  


Chrisitan Mercado looks beside him before grand entry begins at Carolina Indian Circle's 33rd Annual Powwow on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.


The CIC was started in 1974 to provide a community for Native students.  The annual powwow is just one of the many ways that CIC is able to fulfill their three-fold mission, said CIC President Jamison Lowery.

CIC aims to raise awareness about the issues Native Americans face, represent Native culture appropriately and provide a space for Native students to feel supported on UNC’s campus, Lowery said. 

Powwow co-chairperson Ryan Dial-Stanley said before he came to UNC, he had danced at the CIC powwow ever since he can remember. His mother attended the first CIC powwow, 33 years ago. 

“That’s actually how I came to UNC — I started dancing at this powwow,” Dial-Stanley said. 

The theme for this year’s powwow was centered around Native youth. Dial-Stanley said one of the issues within the Native American community is youth engagement, especially in encouraging the pursuit of higher education.


Fayetteville resident Caleb Burnett, 25, dances during the Carolina Indian Circle's 33rd Annual Powwow on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Burnett was the head male dancer for the powwow this year.


Lowery said the powwow aimed to provide inspiration for younger generations and honor the youth already active in their Native communities, such as the North Carolina Native American Youth Organization which was represented at the powwow. 

“This year we knew that we wanted to showcase that, showcase the power that a lot of Native youth have in our communities,” Lowery said. 

Along with the powwow, CIC hosts summer camps for Native youth to experience campus and learn more about the college application process. As an underrepresented demographic on campus, CIC wants to showcase what higher education looks like and encourage youth to pursue it, Lowery said.

Lowery said he has had many role models at UNC that have encouraged him to succeed on campus. One of the messages he said CIC hopes to impart on Native youth is that pursuing higher education is possible, even though it involves leaving home and everything familiar. 

“We try to show that it is possible to live away from home and make it for yourself in a new situation, a new city, a new place,” Lowery said.

The powwow drew dancers from almost all of the eight tribes in North Carolina and over 800 people to UNC’s campus on Saturday, Dial-Stanley said. The powwow offers Native Americans an opportunity to show their culture on their own terms and is meant to be observed. 

“Even though they are Native events — Native Americans participate — they are still very much so public events,” Dial-Stanley said. "We want the public to be here because this is how you can learn about our culture.” 

The idea of the powwow as a show originated in the west in the 1900s, as part of a larger trend of the commercialization of Native culture, Dial-Stanley said. But Native Americans today have changed that narrative, he said. 

“We flipped that and made it something that is our own,” Dial-Stanley said. “A lot of these dances here are in a way contemporary but they are still based on real Native American dances.”

Dial-Stanley cited the regalia of the powwow dancers as evidence of the evolution of Native culture. Regalia pieces are handmade and rooted in tradition, but the bright colors and unique designs signify the trends and evolution of Native culture. 

“Powwows are a great example of how Native American culture is still very much alive, because it evolves — it’s constantly changing,” Dial-Stanley said. 

Powwow co-chairperson Makayla Richardson described the powwow as one big family reunion. The CIC powwow is part of a larger powwow circuit across North Carolina. The date of CIC’s powwow has remained consistent over the years, making this powwow one of many stops across the community, Dial-Stanley said. 

“People know that around the first weekend in March — we got thrown off by the Leap Year, but it’s usually March 1 or March 2 — CIC’s Powwow,” Dial-Stanley said. 

The term “powwow” has been subject to misuse in the Western vernacular, Richardson said, often used synonymously with words describing a meeting. Richardson cited this as an example of the pervasive problem of cultural appropriation. 

“You are using slang from one culture or you are using terms from one culture that you don’t understand and that you don’t practice to mean something else,” Richardson said.

Richardson said cultural appropriation denies the daily struggles of living as a Native American. 

“Being a Native person, I can’t take who I am off,” Richardson said.

But the powwow represents an opportunity for the public to experience authentic Native American culture, fighting against the stereotypes exacerbated by cultural appropriation, Dial-Stanley said. 

“I always tell people, if you want to see authentic Native culture, come to a real powwow,” Dial-Stanley said.

For Lowery, the powwow is a mini-homecoming. 

“(It’s) definitely a performance, definitely a gathering, but most importantly, it’s bringing everybody home,” Lowery said. 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was in the audience Saturday. Guskiewicz said the first initiative of UNC’s new strategic plan Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good is “Build Our Community Together.”

“That really means making certain we have a diverse campus community of students, faculty, staff,” Guskiewicz said. “I think to bring Native Americans from the region onto our campus for an amazing event like this I hope inspires these younger kids to want to come and be a Tar Heel sometime soon.” 

@madelinellis

arts@dailytarheel.com

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