Putting the ‘wow’ in ‘powwow’

Selina Scott

After two years, the Native American Student Association has brought back their Powwow to Lane Community College. With every beat of the drums from the Bad Soul Singers, attendees felt the heartbeat of the families, community and art that the Native American community carries with them throughout their lives.

Though the NASA Powwow has been on a hiatus since 2016,  NASA director Lori Tapahonso had spent months with her team, co-Chairs Eric Reynolds and Matthew Murdock, bringing together vendors from different areas across the Pacific Northwest. They also received a boost by asking KRVM DJ Nick Sixkiller, who promoted the event on his weekly radio show, “Indian Time.”

The NASA Powwow is “a way for American Indians to come together from different tribes,” Sixkiller said, his warm, radio-seasoned voice booming through the speakers. As Sixkiller announced the Grand Entrance, he explained the purpose of the procession’s dances and chants. Young and old alike walked around Titan Coliseum with beautiful regalia topped with headdresses covered in hawk feathers and beads while non-natives watched from the stands. After the Grand Entrance, non-natives were invited to step onto the floor and join the Powwow.

Elder members lead the first dance during Grand Entry at the NASA-hosted Powwow at Lane Community College that’s back from a two-year hiatus. The events went on to include dances for children and a community meal held in the Longhouse. (Selina Scott // The Torch)

The first powwows began sometime in the 1880s as a way to unite Great Plains tribes struggling against the United States government’s westward expansion. By the early 20th century, powwows had spread to tribes around the Great Lakes and in the Rocky Mountains, but as increasing numbers of indigenous people were forced onto reservations and assimilated into American culture, powwows became one of the last remaining public displays of indigenous culture.

Since these beginnings, powwows–like the one hosted by at LCC or the Mother’s Day Powwow at the University of Oregon–have become grand displays of native joy and cultural pride. LCC’s powwow is billed as “one of the largest in the Northwest” by NASA, but still pales in comparison to the annual Gathering of Nations in New Mexico, where over 700 indigenous tribes from all over North America come together for a weekend of music, dancing and feasting.

NASA at Lane Community College assists any American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Indigenous peoples in maintaining cultural values while pursuing their educational goals. They meet monthly in the Longhouse at LCC’s main campus throughout the academic year and post regular updates on their website.