The University of Nebraska Intertribal Exchange hosted its second annual pow wow honoring this year’s graduates on April 22 on the green space outside of the Nebraska Union.
It was the perfect place to make Native Americans at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln more visible on campus, said Shana LaPointe, a senior English and language arts major and member of UNITE.
“Native Americans don’t have a lot of coverage, there’s not a lot of exposure,” LaPointe said. “I feel like having a pow wow, especially here in the middle of campus, is a great way to expose to people that we are here, this is our culture and we want to share it with you.”
With only 34 Native American undergraduate students enrolled in the fall 2016 semester, according to UNL’s Office of Institutional Research, LaPointe said the annual pow wow has been a great way for people to learn about Native American culture and UNITE as a registered student organization.
“We have our competition dances like the women’s jingle, teens jingle or men’s fancy, but our intertribal dances are when everybody from all categories, all ages dance together,” LaPointe said. “That’s why we’re named University of Nebraska Intertribal Exchange, because we’re all different people coming together. And that’s the purpose of an intertribal dance.”
Kendall Dawson, UNL pre-law sophomore and UNITE member said she has a friend from the east coast who had never met a Native American before.
“I think that is a really good reason to do it,” Dawson said. “Even though we’re from the Great Plains, and there’s a lot of Natives around here, I don’t think there’s a lot of exposure. Some people still have a lot of misconceptions about Native people, that we’re not really a modernized people.”
Head man dancer and graduate student Zach Palmer said he hoped people would walk away from the pow wow with a better understanding of Native American culture, and seeing that it is still a culture in today’s society.
“Sometimes all Native Americans get mixed into one group and ‘all Natives are the same,’ but we’re all different,” Palmer said. “And when we come to these things despite our language barriers, our custom barriers, we come here to celebrate. We’re all celebrating for the same reasons. This is a culture that’s still thriving. It’s happening here, in an urban setting.”
As head man dancer, Palmer represents all male dancers at the pow wow and is the first to start certain dances, inviting everyone else to dance with him. The head man is also responsible for choosing a special dance designed to give back to the community somehow. Palmer chose to honor women with his special by doing a women’s jingle dress dance, known as a healing dance.
“We did it in honor of all the women in my life,” Palmer said. “This was a way to help heal the women in my family. My tribe, the Navajo tribe, we’re a matriarchal society, so everything is based around the women.”
Palmer’s hand-made regalia was mostly white with bright, colorful accents. It featured long, white fringe to represent the tall prairie grass and images of roses in memory of his grandfather.
“Everything from the beadwork to the outfit is all hand stitched with needle and thread by myself,” Palmer said. “It takes a lot of time. I did rose applique because my grandpa, on his rodeo horse saddles, he always branded roses. When he passed away is when I started this, so that’s why I have roses.”
Palmer said he was thankful UNITE asked him to be head man and happy to be part of the celebration.
“It gives light to a student population that often goes overlooked,” Palmer said. “This is a culture that, throughout history, has always been repressed, but we’re here today celebrating our culture and our way of life. That’s why it’s important to have these things, to show that our culture is still here, we shall remain and we will continue celebrating life the way we do.”