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National Conversations   Pow Wow   

Indigenous rising

warriors in leadership

In 2018, on a night of landmark elections for many communities, two American Indian women won seats in the House of Representatives, becoming the first Native women to do so in history. In honor of this achievement for the indigenous population, the Inter-Tribal Student Association (ITSA) has chosen Indigenous Rising: Warriors in Leadership as the theme for the 47th Annual University of Utah Pow Wow. The electoral victories of Sharice Davids, member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas and Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, represent various facets in the rise of Indigenous leadership.

Lori Begay, a member of ITSA and Pow Wow planning committee, notes that “historically, American Indian women were viewed as important leaders in their communities. This power was removed by the arrival of colonizers.” While many tribes held matrilineal practices, most – if not all – were keenly concerned with the balance of roles in the community. Colonization and the European practice of patriarchy forcibly replaced these customs and relegated women to the role of silent housewives.

These electoral victories demonstrate the communities’ existence and resilience despite the legacies of colonialism

For Native American women, the election of Davids and Haaland reclaims their ancestral right to leadership in a society that has undermined the power of Indigenous women. “The Inter-Tribal Student Association chose to honor these women as a way to highlight the return of women to their place of leadership. By honoring these two women we acknowledge their success and provide inspiration and encouragement to the younger generation,” says Begaye.

The election of Davids and Haaland was also accompanied by several wins for Native communities on local and state levels. These elections represent Indigenous participation in the United States government, despite the relatively short time that Native communities have been included in federal politics. It was only in 1924 that Native Americans were recognized as citizens of this country; but even then, in some states they weren’t granted the right to vote until as late as 1948 and recent cases of voter suppression have further strained this relationship.The electoral victories like that of Davids and Haaland, some native leaders say, demonstrate the communities’ existence and resilience despite the legacies of colonialism.

The University of Utah Pow Wow is the embodiment of Indigenous student leadership on campus.

ITSA members provided Emily Pantoja, graphic designer for the Office for Equity and Diversity, with images that visualized this newfound representation and strength. Pantoja was inspired to create a poster indicative of the hope the U’s Indigenous students, like Hailee Roberts, are feeling. “Imagery and color are critical elements in Native American designs,” says Pantoja, who aimed to reflect that rich tradition and the Pow Wow theme in the marketing material through repeating triangles shape and colors. “These elements, combined with the emphasis of the two congresswomen, represent how these victories were not obtained alone, are celebrated across the Indigenous community, and are hopefully the beginning of an era in which many more Indigenous folx, perhaps even the students we’re lucky to have here at the U, will continue this journey.”

The University of Utah Pow Wow, Indigenous Rising: Warriors in leadership, is the embodiment of Indigenous student leadership on campus. Begaye reminds us that the U’s Pow Wow “is a time for American Indian/Alaskan Native students, faculty and staff to come together in community, celebrate our accomplishments, and to promote appropriate representation of our culture on campus.” Begaye encourages, “we want those who are not native to also understand our culture.” Everyone is welcome to attend Pow Wow on April 19 and 20.

More information can be found at diversity.utah.edu/powwow/


As we join, learn and participate in the Pow Wow this weekend, we should make every effort to engage with this traditional event with respect. Below is a list that will help to inform your visit to this beautiful and important event:

  1. Always stand respectfully during special songs. These include the Grand Entry, flag songs, veteran’s songs or any other song the MC designates. During these songs, folks should remove their hats.
  2. The correct term for a dancer’s outfit is regalia – not costume. Never touch a dancer’s regalia. Many of the ornaments have religious meaning and are cherished family heirlooms.
  3. Ask permission before taking photos of dancers in regalia. If the photo is for publication or commercial use, this should be explained before the photo is taken.
  4. If you see a lost or dropped feather, do NOT pick it up. Notify the nearest staff member (identified by Pow Wow t-shirt) or Arena Director immediately.
  5. Pointing with the fingers is considered poor manners by some tribes. If you must point, use your head and nod in the direction you wish to indicate.
  6. Feel free to join in the inter-tribal dances by invitation of the MC.
  7. Do not ever cross the arena floor! Do not go into drum circles. If a drum group is singing or about to sing, do not approach the drum. Stay on the perimeter of the arena floor.

During the entire event, pay attention to the MC for announcements. This person will give information about the type of dances and songs as they transpire. The MC will also be important in announcing audience participation.

The most important thing to remember is that the Pow Wows are meant to be social events. Make a new friend, eat some food, visit the vendors and have a great time! If you have any doubts or questions about the above etiquette or would like to know more, feel free to contact a member of ITSA, the Arena director, or a staff member. Most dancers, singers, elders and staff are also happy to help.