Indigenous Rising: Warriors in Leadership

Indigenous voices are rising into positions of power. Two states elected the first Native American women to congress. In Utah, San Juan County elected its first majority American Indian county commission.

The University of Utah’s Inter-Tribal Student Association (ITSA) is celebrating these and other indigenous leaders at the 47th Annual Powwow on Friday, April 19, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 20, 2019, at 12 p.m. at the A. Ray Olpin Student Union, Ballroom. ITSA invites Native American tribes to celebrate their culture through dance, song and spiritual healing. The powwow is free and open to the public, but organizers ask that attendees follow powwow etiquette.

@theU sat down with Hailee Roberts, kinesiology major at the U and chair of the event, to talk about the powwow and this year’s powerful theme.

Why did ITSA choose Indigenous Rising: Warriors in Leadership as the theme for this year’s powwow?

The 47th Annual University of Utah Powwow poster features the first two women elected to the United States Congress: (right) Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk tribe for Kansas’s 3rd district and (below) Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo tribe for New Mexico’s 1st district.

Every year we pick a theme that shines a light on a topic in the Native American community. Last year, we focused on the theme Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This year, we’re focusing on the successes of indigenous leaders rising, Warriors in Leadership. The first Native American women were elected to congress. We have native representation not only in politics but in film, music, NASA and health care. Indigenous people are now taking leadership positions, becoming role models and creating a voice for their community.

This impact is creating a butterfly effect for not only the current generation but for the younger generation as well. To have the power to rise up and not feel restricted or afraid to take steps to become leaders. It will take time, but these leaders are showing us that anything is possible. We’re finally coming into the light.

How have these leaders impacted you personally?

Seeing these amazing role models in society gives me motivation and inspiration to thrive positively, not only towards my education but creating a movement to make a difference. Now that we’re finally being recognized, it appears to be creating an awakening in everyone in our community. We’re embracing our colors, displaying who we are and we won’t back down. This is producing a powerful movement that is causing a ripple effect—it has affected me, by giving me a voice and motivation to make a change. With taking up this role in our student group I am honored to be able to help host this event during my undergraduate years. It helps me keep in touch with my traditional ways while attending the U, even though I am unable to go back down to the reservation and be in touch with my culture, surrounded by relatives and my family’s community. I am glad I had the opportunity to stay in touch with my tradition. It’s helped me learn and grow into an indigenous women leader today.

As indigenous students in ITSA we are able to learn and grow into powerful leaders by continuing into higher education and creating a goal to make a change in our native communities. We have been greatly affected by seeing how these powerful leaders are rising in different roles. Seeing them taking these big steps to improve our society today, it’s uplifting for us to know what we can take on the impossible and we should not be afraid to aim higher.

What part of the powwow are you most looking forward to?

Hailee Roberts, chair of the 47th Annual Powwow, is a kinesiology major with an emphasis in exercise sports science and a minor in nutrition.

The powwow helps me get in touch with my culture again by reviving and energizing my spirit. With my family being traditional, I grew up around the powwow circle by participating in traditional ceremonies and powwow dancing. But I was born here, in Salt Lake City, away from the reservation and with school and everything else, I’m not always able to embrace my culture. But being a student in the Inter-Tribal Student Association, I am able to feel connected to my culture and be surrounded by indigenous students who help keep our cultural tradition alive.

Within the powwow includes the singing, dancing and socializing upon dancers and non-dancers. The participants are gathered in the middle of the arena called the Powwow Circle, where you are connected spiritually. The power of a circle is known as a healing circle. It heals you spiritually, mentally and physically—these are a few of the reasons why we dance. When people are dancing, they may be struggling or have health problems and it is believed that it will help you heal your own spirit. During the powwow, the beating drum being played is compared to the beating of the human heart. It is said that it represents the heart beating of the Earth. The drums become the central point to help connect one’s spirit of the earth.

I’m looking forward to hearing the songs I grew up with, being with family and friends and to be within the Powwow Circle to revive my spirit.

What would you tell someone who is coming to the powwow for their first time?

This is a cultural celebration. It’s a moment where we are connected spiritually, and it’s all positive vibes. A lot of tribes will come wearing different types of regalia in all different colors, dancing different dances and singing various songs in Navajo and other indigenous languages. Every song and dance has a meaning behind it, like a story. And whatever regalia you wear is an expression of who you are.

The Inter-Tribal Student Association organizes this event every year because we’re hoping to spread our traditional ways to make them well-known and so we’re not overlooked. We’re stepping up to take the lead.

For more information, visit diversity.utah.edu/powwow.