Photos courtesy of Bryan Oller/CC Communications
This past weekend was an energetic one for the Native American Student Union (NASU), with a One Nation Walking Together film festival on Friday and Saturday and the Native American Exhibition Powwow on Sunday. One Nation Walking Together is a local nonprofit that brings donated food and clothing to reservations all over the nation.
The films focused on several social and cultural dialogues that take place within the Native American community. Some were a call to action, while others moved audience members to tears. At the end of the film festival, the sound of drums guided participants out of the dark auditorium to the brightly lit Cornerstone main space for traditional dancing and music.
Senior Isaac Saley was the student liaison for the event. He is a Southwest Studies major and NASU member. He sees the collaboration between Colorado College and the local nonprofit as wonderful. “It’s all about people learning these things because a lot of people don’t even realize this is going on and often their [Native American] stories aren’t told or heard, so this is a way their stories can be shared,” Saley said.
Karen Medville is currently the American Indian Program Manager for The Medicine Bearer Youth Treatment Group located in Canyon City, Colo. The group hails youth from all different tribes and reservations. The CC alum and former board member brought a group of Native American youth to view the films, explore the different cultural activities, and experience the diversity within their own indigenous community. She is thankful for organizations like NASU, CC, and One Nation Walking Together for providing authentic representation and a safe space for native youth to discover and learn about themselves. One student in particular was thrilled to meet people from the same tribe as her and enjoyed talking to the filmmaker panel because she is interested in making a documentary in the future about her own experiences growing up in her community.
Following the film festival, the Native American Exhibition Powwow took place on Sunday. A powwow is an intertribal celebration with dancing, drumming, singing, and delicious food. Zunneh-bah Martin, a first-year student, is responsible for bringing back the powwow to CC. Her mother, a CC alumni, created the first powwow in the spring of 1991. However, as the years passed, the tradition faded. It wasn’t until Martin recently came to campus that she decided to revitalize the powwow event and has taken full charge to make sure it stays.
Both women and men danced in their traditional dress adorned with jewels, feathers, or intricate patterns. Another first-year student, Aubrey Skeeter, from the Muscogee and Yuchi tribe, said the powwow was meaningful to her because it was her first time hearing traditional songs and performing her customs after being away from her home in Oklahoma for so long. Skeeter reflects on the importance of storytelling throughout the powwow. “Many [Native Americans] become cultural mainly through powwows, and this is a way that they know themselves, their tribe, and they come to know their people in general. It’s pretty intimate,” Skeeter said. There were many presentations between dances that honored Native American servicemen and women, honored elders of the community, and celebrated the accomplishments of current CC students.
Cornerstone echoed with men singing in unison and their drums resonated throughout the building. Plenty Wolf was one drumming group present at the powwow with a powerful voice. Founder of Plenty Wolf says that “the drumming is the heartbeat of grandmother earth and we love to sing so we can be happy, make others happy and sing for all nations.”
“We sit around the drum and everything we do, we do together,” continued drum member and singer Cordell Killscrow.
Community members of all ages came out to watch, including Alma Valdez. “My favorite part was watching the kids dancing, that was really cute,” said Valdez. The exhibition had a friendly and welcoming environment, and non-native dancers were allowed to participate in some dances as well.
CC students came in more full force after Rastall brunch hours ended, like senior Michelle Cordell. “I wanted to come out and support them [NASU students] and see some of their family too. It’s a beautiful aspect of community that we don’t get to see everyday at CC,” stated Cordell who is close with some of the NASU members at CC.
The Native American Exhibition Powwow stretched from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Co-chair of NASU Emily Lucas describes NASU as “a small group, we have 20 members, but because of that we spend a lot of time together and it’s a lot more of a family environment. On one hand, we want to educate the general community but on the other hand we are a lot more focused on supporting one another in our daily lives and being there for each other.” Lucas was impressed with how much attention the events received. “It’s great to see the turnout, we’ve seen a lot of students here, which means a lot to us, and a lot of community members are here as well,” said Lucas.
Despite a year full of hardship with discriminatory and racist remarks on Yik Yak, the events this weekend show their unbreakable bond as a community and as a source of healing. “Being a native American student, not just here on campus but everywhere in my life, I face discrimination everyday. Its exhausting but just being together, having the powwow here with the native community members, it gives us strength,” Martin states. The NASU film festival and powwow have returned in full force, and the expectations for next year will surely be high.