In an office at the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center Thursday, director Brian Gilley, stationed at a sewing machine and wearing a blue apron, stitched together a harness for a traditional feather bustle.
A few feet away, graduate student Terri Miles attached pink ribbons and fringe to a black shawl. In the hallway, American Indian Student Association vice president Nicky Belle threaded red and white beads onto a spreader socket for a headdress made from porcupine and deer hair.
The FNECC, inside Indiana University’s Weatherly Hall, was a small flurry of activity as organizers made final preparations for their Annual Traditional Powwow, which will take place this Saturday and Sunday at Union Street Center, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.
Belle said the group was in “powwow mode,” a state of mind jokingly dreaded by the families of those organizing the event. During this time, the organizers can think about only one thing: the powwow.
Miles, who is treasurer of both the AISA and the Native American Graduate Student Association, said even after a year of planning, there are always last- minute things to do, errands to run, adjustments to be made.
“It’s always, ‘OK, what do we need, what do we need?’” she said.
Miles’ current task was completing the black shawl, a surprise for another student’s mother. The mother was visiting her daughter and planned on attending the powwow this weekend, but did not have a shawl that would fit her small frame, Miles said. The familiar pink bows decorating the gift represent the mother’s fight against cancer.
Such displays of community and good will are a common aspect of powwows, Belle said.
“A powwow is a gathering,” he said, speaking over the hum of Gilley’s sewing machine. “It’s not about just an individual. It’s about friends and family.”
This particular powwow, an annual event now in its second year, will feature performers from around the country. Terry Fiddler from Minnesota will emcee the event. Oklahoma’s Cheryl McClellan will act as Head Lady Dancer while Iowa’s Gilbert Brown will act as Head Man Dancer.
Drumming groups, both Northern and Southern style, will provide the beat, and everyone is allowed to dance. Fiddler will announce when it’s OK for participants to join the dance circle, Belle said, adding that there’s no reason for anyone to feel intimidated.
“They’re not trying to worry about who’s the best,” Belle said. “It’s about coming together and celebrating their Indian-ness.”
FNECC director Gilley said the celebration is also an educational and recruitment opportunity. It’s about having a good time, he said, but also raising awareness about the organization and letting Native American students know about opportunities on their campus.
“It can be hard to be a native student at a predominantly white school,” Gilley said. “The powwow helps illustrate IU’s commitment to a particular kind of diversity.”
But the powwow is not just an event for Native Americans, Miles said.
“We want everyone to come,” she said. “It’s inclusive, not exclusive. It’s a great time for families and the whole community.”
Originally published in the Bloomington Herald-Times.