Annual American Indian pow wow educates tribal members

Joy Marie Hallare/ The Collegian

With dancers in traditional Indigenous regalia guided by the beat of drums, the 19th annual Fresno State Powwow was underway this past weekend at O’neil Park.

Pow wows are meant for the indigenous people of America to gather and display the proud aspects of their culture. The Fresno State pow wow was filled with booths featuring American Indian style art and crafts, information on indigenous people, American Indian food and even a traditional 20-foot-tall teepee.

Kenneth Hansen is a political science professor and faculty advisor of First Nations, a student organization that is aimed at bringing about more awareness of the American indigenous cultures. Hansen said a lot of the events at the pow wow celebrate the cultural aspects of tribes from across the United States, not only California tribes.

“It’s a chance to get together and see old friends, a chance to bring the community together,” Hansen said. “It is also a time to educate a lot of students who don’t know much about powwows and indigenous people.”

Hansen said the pow wow is a time for fun, but it is also an important event to inform the American Indian people. Many public service groups attended the pow wow, giving out information to many of American Indians who face serious health problems.

“They’re all designed to give services to the indigenous community here,” Hansen said. “There’s 7,000 Indians in Fresno and many more in the foothills. A lot of these people are not wealthy and need a lot of help. These people are here to do that.”

The American Indian Health Project (AIHP), an urban Indian health center, provides services to American Indian people in Fresno that don’t have health insurance. Jennifer Jones works for the group and was at the powwow providing information.

“We do our outreach here so that more American Indians can find out all the services we offer,” Jones said. “We try to participate in as many community events as possible.”

Jones, a member of the Chukchansi tribe, said most of the clients have diabetes and the group has a staff dietitian to provide nutritional information. The group also has a substance abuse counselor and suicide prevention unit to help American Indians who struggle with these issues.

“The main health problems are the same as those of the overall population,” Jones said. “Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, suicide and drug abuse but for American Indians those rates are much higher. We try to do a lot of prevention and education for the people. For those who do need treatment we try to give them those resources.”

One of the most moving pieces at the pow wow was the traditional dancing. There are numerous dancing styles that mean different things to the indigenous Americans. The “jingle dance,” for example, has women wearing dresses covered in jingles, making the sounds of waves of water or thunder that will ward off any evil spirits.

Hansen said many powwows have dance competitions where the winners are awarded cash prizes and many of these contests can be very competitive and controversy usually arises over the judging. The Fresno State powwow is just an exhibition dance solely for fun.

John DeAnda, 18, is a member of the Siletz tribe from Oregon and holds the position of “Head Man,” the one who leads all the dancing and the grand entry.

“It’s just about having fun and practicing my dancing and getting better,” DeAnda said. “I just dance for myself and my loved ones and those who can’t dance. I started dancing when I was six. I just saw everybody doing it and I just wanted to do it too.”

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