Students and community members celebrate Native American culture at the 25th UI Powwow

Student organizers from the Native American Student Association hosted the 25th anniversary UI Powwow on Saturday to celebrate Native American culture and traditions. The powwow featured traditional dances and regalia of various tribes across the Midwest.


Katie Goodale

Dancers perform in the grand entrance during the 25th annual University of Iowa Powwow in the Fieldhouse on April 20, 2019. Hosted by the Native American Student Association, participants could buy traditional food and clothing, and sign up to perform traditional song and dance.

Annie Fitzpatrick, News Reporter

As the 25th University of Iowa Powwow grand entry began on the afternoon of April 20 in the Field House, the elegant chimes of the beautiful regalia, unique to each dancer and tribe, could be heard across the gymnasium.

The Powwow is a student-run event hosted by the Native American Student Association that seeks to celebrate Native American culture and traditions. The Powwow  and featured dances, drums, and celebration of various tribe members.

Tracy Peterson, the staff adviser for the Native American Association, said his role was to organize the logistics of the event and be the “bridge builder” between student organizers and Powwow participants.

He said the event is important in acknowledging and celebrating the cultures of Native American students at the UI.

“The University of Iowa Powwow is a way to reaffirm our identities on campus,” he said.

The Powwow began with the grand entry, in which dancers enter the celebration organized by dance style and age. As the dancers enter, the host drums play, and everyone in attendance stands. Native American veterans from different tribes were recognized first out of respect, and then the royalty, or head dancers, were recognized.

Peterson said honoring the veterans is so important, because Native Americans outnumber all groups by a considerable number, he said.

Though this is the 25th edition, Peterson said, the UI Powwow hasn’t taken place every year because of low native student enrollment.

However, this year is a “resurgence” for the Powwow, because 13 Meskwaki students will be on campus next year, he said.

Peterson said having the additional native students is a huge statement, and, with the Meskwaki settlement not too far from campus (75 miles), the UI will cater to these students and their education.

RELATED: Photos: 25th Annual University of Iowa Powwow

UI fourth-year student Jessica Owens, a student staff member at the Powwow, is also the treasurer for the Native American Student Association and was formerly the president of the organization.

“It was a really big deal for me to come in my freshman year and see such a strong representation of native culture on campus, because, obviously, that’s not something you see in your classroom is from day to day,” she said.

The event is important to have in the community, Owens said, because UI students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members all are a part of fostering a beautiful environment on campus to celebrate Native American culture.

UI fourth-year student Brandon Hundley, who was invited to the Powwow by a friend, said his favorite part is the traditional, unique regalia worn by dancers from different tribes. Hundley, who has worked on a reservation in the past, said having powwows and celebrating Native American culture are important, especially on a campus with low levels of diversity.

“It’s nice to see that the culture is also still present here on the university campus. Iowa’s fairly diverse, but it’s not super-diverse,” he said “It was good to see that the cultures haven’t been kind of smothered by the lack of members.”

Peterson said the Powwows are the glue that holds the Native American community together on the UI campus. Student organizers, both native and not native, will remember the connections and lifelong friendships they’ve made through Powwow, he said.

“The main thing we emphasize is that they soak it in, that they take a moment just to sit down to hear the music, smell that food, and just absorb what’s happening,” he said.