Pow Wow celebrates American Indian language

The theme of this year’s Pow Wow is “Honoring Our Language to Strengthen Our Future.” Joe Masters, MSW ’13 (Biidwewiigun Mukwa, Thunder Bear), says language is an essential part of Native American cultural identity. Here, he sings a native song — an invitation to dance.

Language. Though many of us take it for granted, it’s a vital and essential part of Native American cultural identity.

To celebrate its importance, the theme of this year’s Pow Wow at Washington University in St. Louis is “Honoring Our Language to Strengthen Our Future.” The 26th annual event, a celebration of American Indian cultures, will be held Saturday, April 9, in the Washington University Field House on the Danforth Campus.

Hosted by the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at the Brown School, the event is free and open to the public.

“When people leave our community, or are taken from our community, over time they lose their identity,” said Joe Masters, MSW ’13 (Biidwewiigun Mukwa, Thunder Bear), who mentors students at the Buder Center and will be part of this year’s Pow Wow. “A big part of that identity is language. It’s essential for all native tribes to preserve their language and cultural heritage.”

Masters is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians from northern Michigan.

“We use our language to express ourselves in many different ways,” he said. “Even though I’m not fluent, it’s important for me to speak it as much as possible. As an elder told me a long time ago, ‘When you go to ceremonies, speak your language as much as possible. When you are at home, pray in your language.’

“Our language helps define us,” Masters said. “Everything in our culture revolves around language.”

Visitors and participants at the Pow Wow will be able to enjoy dancing, singing, drumming, arts, crafts and food. Grand entries will take place at noon and 6 p.m. Traditional arts and crafts booths, and community information booths, open at 10 a.m.

“As a member of a Pacific Northwest tribe, I am looking forward to sharing my culture as well as learning from others who will be in attendance at this year’s Pow Wow,” said Olivia Ferrara (Suquamish), first-year Pow Wow co-chair.

“I encourage members from both the Washington University and St. Louis communities to participate in this event and acknowledge the strong native culture that is present not only on this campus, but throughout the country,” she said.

“The 26th Annual Powwow is an inter-tribal gathering of American Indians/Alaskan Natives to dance, sing, become friends, share meals and share traditions,” said Veronica Bruesch, second-year Pow Wow chair.

“For St. Louis locals, this is a great way to experience and see how American Indians and Alaskan Natives participate in their culture,” she said.

The event is sponsored by the Buder Center; the Women’s Society of Washington University; the Missouri Humanities Council; and the Brown School Student Coordinating Council.

Native American dancers at the 2015 Pow Wow. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)
Native American dancers at the 2015 Pow Wow. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

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