This weekend, Natives at Penn did not let a rainy day stop them from hosting a wide range of performers at a celebration of Native American culture and heritage.
Natives at Penn — a group that aims to celebrate Native American heritage and to increase visibility and awareness of native cultures on campus — hosted their third annual powwow at Wynn Commons Saturday afternoon.
The powwow drew more than ten performers from around the country, with more than 50 Penn community members stopping by during the day to take photos and listen to the rhythms of the Native singers and dancers. The performers donned their traditional tribal clothing — a colorful reminder of Native roots and heritage.
Saturday marked the first ever powwow for a number of spectators and members of Natives at Penn. College freshman and Co-Chair of Natives at Penn Caroline Kee, whose family is from the Choktaw Nation of Oklahoma, said she “always knew what it was and that it was a huge deal in Native culture, but never got to experience it until today.”
Kee said she was proud to see the event come together, as it required a great deal of work and was primarily run by four freshmen, some of whom had never experienced a powwow.
However, College freshman Talon Ducheneaux — who is an active member of Natives at Penn and emceed Saturday’s event — said he grew up in South Dakota where he attended more “powwows than I can count.”
“We felt obligated and interested to showcase to the Penn community what happens at a regular powwow, which usually runs for two to three days,” he explained.
Among the powwow’s main performers were The SilverCloud Singers, an intertribal singing and dance troupe from New York City. Their songs featured “native vocables,” which originated from the days “when Natives were placed in boarding schools, [and] they were not allowed to speak or sing Indian,” explained troupe singer Heno Josephine Tarrant.
Tarrant added that her affiliation with SilverCloud allows her native identity to travel with her everywhere and to bring Native traditions to different powwows across the nation.
College sophomore Afuah Frimpong, who works at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, said she wished more people had come out to see the powwow.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I think it’s essential that every Penn student experiences an intercultural event especially when it deals with Native American culture, because it is not explored as in depth as it should be in educational [curricula] and everyday life.”
Wharton junior Sasha Lagombra agreed, adding that events like the powwow are necessary because they “correct common misconceptions and stereotypes” by visually teaching different aspects of Native culture.
One of the highlights of Saturday afternoon came in the form of an appearance by the Navy Color Guard from Benjamin Franklin High School’s junior ROTC program “to honor the Native Americans as well as the lives of American veterans,” Chief Warrant Officer James Mackey said.
“We’re here to show that no matter where we come from, we are all Americans,” Mackey said.
“I love learning about new cultures, especially visually,” Lagombra added. “For me, today was an opportunity to learn visually the different aspects of Native culture and the differences between Native tribes.”