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May 10, 2017

UMass to host 36th Annual Powwow Saturday

Collegian file photo

The 36th Annual University of Massachusetts Powwow will be held on Saturday in the Curry Hicks Cage, with doors opening around 11:30 a.m. and the event slated to last until 6 p.m. It will be hosted by the UMass Native American Students Association and feature Storm Boyz as the host drum group, with drum groups Iron River and Eastern Suns also performing.

Justin Beatty, a UMass alumnus and former NASA member, will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Beatty described modern powwows as opportunities for Native people to share crafts, food, songs, dances and catch up with friends. He also said they provide non-Native people the opportunity to learn about them “from us, instead of from movies or television.”

“Essentially a powwow is a cultural gathering,” Beatty said. “Social in nature, but there are ceremonial elements to it.”

The UMass Powwow is an inter-tribal powwow. While Beatty, who is Ojibwe and Saponi, said that many Native nations traditionally held gatherings for assorted reasons throughout the year, inter-tribal powwows emerged as opportunities for people from different nations to come together.

“There’s a bunch of different Native nations and we have collectively agreed upon a certain way for us to act when we are all in one space,” he said.

He contrasted this with pan-Indianism, which he described as a false idea that all Native communities and nations act the same way.

The general format for powwows consists of a grand opening, where dancers enter the dance arena, followed by flag songs, where drummers in attendance play the songs of different Native nations. A victory song is occasionally performed, followed by an invocation, prayer and posting of Native colors.

A veteran’s song is performed, which Beatty said honors not just people serving in the military but any area of public service that may deal with violence. Native veterans will go around the circle once, then invite non-Native veterans or family representatives to join.

Following this, there will be inter-tribal dancing and exhibition dancing, wherein everyone who dances a style has their own turn.

Angelina LaRotonda, a freshman in NASA, will be the head lady dancer at this year’s powwow. She said anyone with no prior knowledge can dance during inter-tribal dancing, and that there will be food, vendors and a storyteller, who this year is Larry Spotted Crow Mann.

“I remember being at this powwow since I was really, really young so I can’t remember when I started coming,” LaRotonda said.

LaRotonda said her mother was raised in a mixed Native family at a time where it was unacceptable to have that identity and members of her mother’s family attempted to hide her background from her for years.

LaRotonda’s mother took her to church services and powwows throughout her childhood.

“Growing up she always wanted me to have a choice,” LaRotonda said.

Dancing was not pushed on her, she said, but she picked it up after following friends who would walk through the powwow.

She said her mother brought her to the UMass Powwow because it was close to their house and there was a sense of trust at the event. She was taught she could wander through the Powwow if she stayed within the circle of vendors marking the edge.

“We’ve always been treated super well,” she said. “Even if people don’t know you.”

Beatty said he was first asked to host a powwow in his 20s, which was early enough to surprise him.

He said to host it is necessary to be knowledgeable of different cultures able to communicate that knowledge to people with different levels of information.

“It’s been a blessing, it’s been amazing I’ve had this opportunity,” he said. “I’m still in awe of the fact that I get asked.”

Beatty said he hopes people will come to the Powwow and see that Native people are not only in the area but have a vibrant community and described powwows as one of the few opportunities where Native people have control over their imagery.

He also encouraged non-Native people to come to the UMass Powwow, which is open to the public.

“If you hear about a powwow, chances are you can come,” he said.

The day before the Powwow, there will be the 10th Annual Indigenous Peoples Symposium at UMass, focusing on “Methods of Indigenous Empowerment.” It will be the first student-organized symposium NASA President and senior Andreus Ridley can remember.

“It’s important to highlight research students in the Certificate Program [on Native American and Indigenous Studies] are doing,” he said. “People routinely drive out from different communities like Mashpee, which is a fairly great distance away.”

The Symposium will begin at 2 p.m. in Room 1009 of the Campus Center.

Stuart Foster can be reached at or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

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