American Indians display history, beauty of their culture at CVTC

April 16, 2014

From leadertelegram.com: “American Indians display history, beauty of culture in CVTC powwow event” — By Emily Miels Leader – The loud drumbeats, chanting and brightly colored costumes were hard to miss Monday at the Chippewa Valley Technical College commons.

Students and spectators got a firsthand look at the traditional dances and culture of American Indian tribes during the college’s annual American Indian Powwow Exhibition.

“You can’t help but be amazed at what you’re witnessing,” said Mike Ojibway, CVTC’s diversity and equal opportunity manager.

The Lac Courte Oreilles pipestone singers played drums and chanted along as dancers showed off traditional dances and costumes.

“A powwow is a social dance. It brings us together,” said emcee Dylan Prescott, who shared the significance and background of each song.

One of the first performances was the women’s traditional dance, which was light and graceful as the women “danced soft on Mother Earth,” Prescott said. However, women do not always dance soft. The traditional dance shifted into the “fancy” dance, a newer style in which women wear bright shawls and dance to upbeat, energetic music.

“(Men) used to throw rocks and sticks at them because they didn’t like how they were out there dancing around,” Prescott said.

The men’s traditional dance was meant to be a war dance, Prescott said. When the men returned from battle, the tribe would gather and celebrate with the warriors.

“They’d tell stories in their dance about what they’d done at war,” he said.

The costumes also play a significant role in telling about the dancer and the tribe itself, Prescott said. For example, the grass dancers wear long fringes on their costumes that sway as they dance, just as grass would in the breeze.

“I thought it was interesting that everything has a meaning — every color, ever piece of fabric on their clothing and the dances,” said CVTC student Stacy Rutsch, who attended Monday’s event.

Audience members watched as the dancers twirled, swayed and hopped, but they also got the chance to participate in the dances for themselves.

This was CVTC’s biggest powwow exhibition to date, with close to 40 dancers from Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, Potowatami, Oneida, Menominee, Comanchi, Arikara, Sioux, and Omaha tribes.

“When they started out a couple of years ago there was only six (dancers), so it’s really growing, and hopefully it can continue to do that,” said Kodiak Cleveland, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and CVTC student who helped plan the event.

About 60 American Indian students are enrolled at CVTC, Ojibway said, but the campus continues to become more diverse.

“It’s important to show them that this is part of our culture, part of our life,” Cleveland said.

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