Taking Time for the Wacipi Powwow

Noah Sell, Arts & Community Writer

Powerful drums and even more powerful energy filled the Hyslop on Saturday with the arrival of the 49th Annual Wacipi Powwow. Attendants and participants alike were treated with a day full of music, dances, art vendors and food.


Dr. Linda Neuerburg is the assistant director of Student Diversity and Inclusion. Student Diversity and Inclusion goal is to simply improve the lives of students of color through academic and financial support as well as through community building.


“The powwow is an opportunity for the Native American community to come together and to visit, to see old friends, to relax, to enjoy the music, the drum,” Dr. Neuerburg said. “If you’re not dancing, you still come anyway and you still have that feeling that you get from the drum and from watching the participants in their regalia. It’s a chance to enjoy each other and share our culture with the community. It’s pretty hard to stand still when the drum is playing.”


People of all ages come to take part and experience this event.


“It’s fun. I love watching the little kids coming in and taking part, and knowing for sure that we have a young generation that’s coming up and will be dancing, and that this will be going on for generations,” Dr. Neuerburg said.


The powwow is an event that has been put on regularly for nearly half of a century is bound to experience changes.


“Naturally it’s gotten bigger over the years, but it’s always stayed the same in that UNDIA, the Indian Association, has always put the powwow on. They have done so with the staff at American Indian Student Services,” Dr. Neuerburg said. “David Gipp was one of the first students that started the Indian Organization itself and had the first powwow. It started out, I believe, with six students that wanted to plan it and it got going after that. Each year it got a little bigger, a little bigger, more drums, more dancers.”


Part of what makes this powwow different from others is that it is almost completely organized by UND students. Although they receive some help from the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, it’s up to the students to do the bulk of the work to coordinate the ceremony.


Makayla Mather is the president of the UND Indian Association. The UNDIA is made up of American Indian students who are there to support one another and provide the Grand Forks community with multicultural education.


“We spend since November doing all of this, contacting the tribes, collecting the money,” Mather said. “I believe that this is the only powwow in North Dakota that is completely student-ran, so it’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s worth it and it shows how much dedication students have to our culture.”


The weekend’s activities weren’t left untouched by the surprise snow storm. With some people unable to make the commute to UND, the powwow was comprised of about 250 dancers in attendance, making the turnout smaller than usual.


“I expected to have more dancers here and, also, more booths here for people to sell art and stuff like that,” Tyson Jeannotte, a mentor with Student Diversity and Inclusion, said. “Yesterday a lot of people called us and they said, ‘Is the powwow still going on? Okay, I’ll try to make it.’ So a lot of them probably didn’t make it. I think a lot of the dancers, too, from the South Dakota area couldn’t make it, but that’s fine, we still had a good turnout.”


The exact purpose for having the powwow may change depending on who you ask, but the central focus of people coming together and celebrating remains the same.


“As a whole, the purpose of the powwow is to honor the Native American students that are graduating,” Jeannotte said. “To be a graduate and being honored, it means something, right? So I enjoy the powwow, and I’m glad it went to one day because then it focuses on the purpose that we’re honoring the graduates.”


Although Native American students are being honored, the powwow is still an opportunity for other people to come together and experience a different culture.


“For me, the powwow is mostly for coming together with people that are like me and want to experience their culture and have a place that they can do so without being judged for it,” Mather said. “So it’s a lot of expressing what has been taken away from us. And doing it out in the public with the support of UND means a lot.”


The 49th Wacipi Powwow was a celebration of Native American students that will be graduating this spring as well as a celebration of culture.