Rescheduled powwow delights; Participants dance to the beat of their own drum

Southern Oregon University instructor Brent Florendo dances in traditional regalia with other participants at Lane’s powwow in Building 5 Gymnasium on April 5.Photo: Laura Newman


Southern Oregon University instructor Brent Florendo dances in traditional regalia with other participants at Lane’s powwow in Building 5 Gymnasium on April 5.
Photo: Laura Newman

Hundreds of people flocked to Lane’s Building 5 gymnasium April 5 for a rescheduled powwow. This free ceremony, hosted by Lane’s Native American Student Association, typically takes place in December. However, a winter snow storm led to a cancellation of this event in 2013.

This is the first time in the powwow’s history that the event has been pushed to the spring. Lane native groups and the administration have decided to continue this event during the spring season.

NASA faculty adviser Andrew Viles has been involved with the powwow since 1999.

“It’s always been the first Saturday in December. People have put that weekend aside in their schedules,” Viles said. “This year because of the snow, it was impossible to have it and we’re trying it in the spring.”

This event has been an annual celebration for over 20 years, and was started by now retired Frank Merill, who was the visionary behind the Longhouse.

Many vendors set up for the event selling goods such as jewelry, textiles, clothing, tea, art and pottery. The line for fry bread, a traditional native sweet bread, was never short and continually sold out between batches.

Participants gathered in elaborate traditional regalia.

The emcee called each native dance group to the floor to demonstrate traditional dances.

Other dances were intertribal, featuring both tribe members and anyone else who wanted to join in. Several groups gathered in drumming circles and chanted, which set the steady rhythm for the dancers.

James Florendo, the primary adviser for NASA and Lane instructor, is a dancer himself. “Dance, to me, is a prayer to the Creator,” he said.

“Tribes are coming from all over the place and to me, it doesn’t make a difference where they come from or how they dance. It’s that they’re allowed to dance their prayer the way they want to.”

The importance of passing these traditions down through generations was stressed by participating members.

Several dances were limited to younger performers.

Florendo’s nephew joined in a number of the traditional presentations.

“He was listening to the drum while still in his mother’s womb. He was born with rhythm,” he said. “The heartbeat of Mother Earth.”

NASA, with the help of several community and Lane members such as MEChA and Facilities, made this powwow happen. Gifts were donated to the native elders of tribes and toys were gifted to the child participants. With the help of Lane’s culinary department, the event included a free salmon and turkey dinner.

“NASA feeds the masses,” Viles said. “There’s a lot of different coordination that goes on and a lot of people have been involved with it. That’s part of the spirit of the powwow.”

NASA is open to students of all backgrounds and traditions. The club meets on Fridays at 3:30 p.m. in the Long House near Building 30.

“NASA is open for all students, but for people who are tribal or native students it’s a place to be safe,” Viles said.

“It’s a place where they can do work they were trained to do in a public institution.”

One of the four co-chairs of NASA, Daniel Gibson, has been involved with the student organization for three years.

“I major in intercultural communications,” he said. “To me communication is the biggest part. With texting and cell phones … no one is communicating anymore. I want to bring that communication back.”

Florendo agreed. Powwows by nature are a way for communities to come together and speak through storytelling and dance.

“The powwow is a native way of communicating,” Florendo said. “A place to come together as people. Human to human communication, that’s what’s important.”

People of all ages participated in the different forms of traditional dance during Lane’s powwow in the Building 5 gymnasium on April 5.Photo: Laura Newman


People of all ages participated in the different forms of traditional dance during Lane’s powwow in the Building 5 gymnasium on April 5.
Photo: Laura Newman