SALT LAKE CITY — Since indigenous tribes first formed, Native Americans have used dance to mark significant moments in their lives and history. Dances of healing, reverence, war, marriage, birth and death have been used to encapsulate the nuances of human experience in times of triumph and struggle. And the tradition continues on today.
“A pow wow is a gathering of Native American people to come together in prayer, song and dancing,” Naakaii Tsosie, a BYU student who's also a member of the Navajo tribe, told the Deseret News. “Yes it's a competition, but it’s also there to unite people who have gone through similar stories so that we can keep our culture alive.”
Brigham Young University will host its 38th annual Cedartree Pow Wow on Friday and Saturday. The event features dances from members of tribes across the U.S. and Canada, and is a sacred, energetic celebration and competition that invites natives and non-natives to participate in the traditions of a culture that dates back more than 12,000 years.
“Pow wows are one way my family stays close to its roots,” Tsosie explained. “We go to a lot of pow wows because we're dancers and singers in the family, so anytime someone’s like, ‘Hey, there’s a pow wow this weekend!’ our entire family will go. We've got everything ready to go, like, right now. I have all my pow wow things in the car.”
Tsosie will perform the Fancy Dance at BYU’s upcoming event. The dance created by the Paca tribe in the 1880s marks Native American resistance against the Rules for Indian Courts, which banned native religious ceremonies and the practices of medicine men. It's a loud, colorful war dance that was performed to demonstrate the enduring spirit of Native Americans, in spite of social and political oppression.
“It’s a warrior's dance, so it’s sort of a rebellion thing,” Tsosie said. “Since it wasn’t ceremonial, they were allowed to dance it.”
Erin Tapahe, a Navajo BYU student, will perform the Hoop Dance and the Healing Jingle Dance.
“(The Hoop Dance) is a symbol of the circle of life and eternity,” Tapahe explained. “It shows we’re always connected to our ancestors. It's a circle, and it's never-ending.
“The dancers will make different formations like an eagle, an alligator, birds, butterflies, flowers to tell a story,” she said, remembering formations she’s seen at other pow wows. “Some dancers can use up to 35 hoops ... if you get higher in the number of hoops that doesn't mean you’re better — (the competition) is more so based on the creativity of the hoop formations, the dancing and keeping to a beat.”
Another notable pow wow element is the regalia, or dress, which is crafted to express someone’s “tribe, experiences and who they are,” Kaika Cole, another student dancer from the Mohawk tribe, explained.
Across the board, the students agreed that native culture has a sacred underlying element that can only be taught through immersion. Young Native Americans therefore find it extremely important to learn and pass down tribal traditions to other members of their tribe.
“Without (learning and teaching the culture), it'll disappear,” Cole said. “Because of everything else that kind of comes along in our lives, it's pretty easy to kind of push it to the back burner. But then our kids won't understand the meanings — just like some of the meanings have already been lost.”
But for those who make time to learn and remember, the culture is alive and truly magnificent.1 comment on this story
“There’s a camaraderie that you feel,” Cole continued. “There is a special feeling that you get at grand entry when everybody comes together and dances in a circle … Dancers can feel when you are in sync with the beat, because the drum represents the heartbeat of mother. You're all connected. That's when it becomes magical, not just a competition ... it becomes a spiritual moment for everybody.”
If you go ...
What: 2019 BYU Harold Cedartree Pow Wow
When: March 29 at 6 p.m., March 30 at 1 and 6 p.m.
Where: Brigham Young University, Wilkinson Student Center, 1 Campus Dr., Provo
How much: $6 per day for general public, $5 per day with high school/college I.D., $6 total (for both days) for dancers and singers, and free for seniors and children ages 10 and under, free for BYU students with I.D.