The University of Utah will host its 51st Annual Pow Wow on April 7 and 8, 2023. Each year, members of the Inter-Tribal Student Association (ITSA) and American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) select a theme that addresses different topics and highlights several issues facing Indigenous students and neighboring tribal communities.
Anisha Marion, a doctoral student at the U and an active member of ITSA, explains what this year’s theme, “Elevating Indigenous Youth,” means to her as a student and member of the Utah community. The theme was designed to speak to the impact of colonialism on Native communities, especially the residential boarding school era.
“I think this was an emotional decision for all of us, as each of us has our own personal and family experience and traumas tied to the residential school era,” Marion explains. The theme was also chosen to bring urgent awareness to the Indian Child Welfare Act potentially being overturned by the Supreme Court in June. This act was put into place after the residential school era and is meant to ensure that Indigenous youth in the foster care system are placed in Indigenous homes where they could continue to be connected to their traditions.
“Overturning this law would threaten our cultural traditions and tribal sovereignty once again,” Marion explains. She shares her personal narrative with us to highlight the importance of being knowledgeable and aware.
“Growing up, my siblings and I would ask our father for details about our family history with residential schools. These stories always saddened me because they illustrated how residential schools were in a way successful at achieving the erasure of Indigenous people and traditions. From old documents and journals, my father learned that his grandfather spent a few months in the residential school system and thankfully was able to return home safely. He even mentioned that children at residential schools would hold secret pow wows, which served as a space to practice traditions, like language, song, and dance, that were illegal to practice.”
“Out of fear that my father could be ripped away from his home, my grandfather raised my father as French Catholic and hid his Indigenous Ancestry and traditions from him. My father only found out about his ancestry and family history when he was in his late 20s,” Marion says. “There were so many missing pieces, but throughout the years, my father worked so hard to piece together who he was and teach himself many Anishinaabe traditions that he could pass down to us.”
“Every time I dance at pow wows, I always remember that the traditions that I am lucky to be able to practice were ones that my father and many other Indigenous ancestors fought and died for.”
Sadly, Marion’s father passed away last year. The loss was sudden and unexpected and required her to quickly prepare the ceremony to send him home. She says that making those preparations again reinforced for her the importance of the traditions.
“I knew how important it was to sing and dance him home,” she says. “My father, like many Indigenous people, continued to struggle with his identity and passed away with a piece of his spirit missing. I have promised myself that I will do anything in my power to prevent this dark history from repeating. For me, this starts raising awareness about Indian Child Welfare Act and supporting the youth, encouraging them to practice their traditions and support them in any way that we can.”
The American Indian Resource Center and members of the Inter-Tribal Student Association encourage the U community to come out and support Indigenous students, ask questions, and gain a deeper understanding of who Indigenous people are. Reconciliation takes time, but it starts with wanting to learn and become knowledgeable of the ways in which the U community can facilitate true healing.