Community members are invited to celebrate Indigenous culture in Lawrence through a daylong powwow and festival hosted by a University of Kansas student group on Saturday, April 8.
This year marks the 34th annual KU First Nations Student Association (FNSA) Powwow and the sixth annual Indigenous Cultures Festival. Students and staff involved with FNSA, a student organization dedicated to improving the campus experience for KU’s Indigenous community, collaborated to put together the 2023 celebration.
The combined events will feature singing, dancing, food, art and more. The free and family-friendly events welcome the community to learn about traditions, culture, history and contemporary topics relating to Indigenous people.
Last year’s powwow and festival brought hundreds of people through. Organizers have been working since January to plan for this year’s event, said Lori Hasselman, Shawnee Tribe/Delaware Tribe, assistant director of KU Native American Initiatives.
“So many awesome folks come together to plan this event every year bringing a wide range of incredible talents and such a love for the powwow,” Hasselman said via email.
“I don’t think this powwow could be so successful without the students and this core group of organizers from KU and the Lawrence community. It’s really a special group of dedicated and hardworking individuals. I just can’t wait to see everyone. It’s like a big annual family reunion with everyone eating, laughing and hugging each other. I’m so glad everyone gets to see us this way. We love each other so much.”
The public is invited to participate in the day of celebration, but non-Indigenous attendees should be aware and respect the cultural significance of the event, according to the event’s website.
“A powwow is not a form of entertainment, it is a way of life,” according to the website. “Collectively the elements of the powwows displayed in song and dance are prayers to the Creator, honoring and celebrating spirituality and freedom, and a connection to the past, present and future.”
The powwow and festival will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at Lied Center of Kansas, 1600 Stewart Drive in Lawrence. Entry and parking are free. Organizers recommend attendees bring cash for vendors, who will be selling art, food and official event T-shirts in adult sizes throughout the day, according to the website.
Attendees can pop around to different activities that will be occurring simultaneously Saturday. As part of the Indigenous Cultures Festival, there will be a series of events between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
There will be five presentations — such as “Powwow 101” and “Honoring Our Ancestors” — from various educational speakers, plus three interactive activities and two children’s activities. Hasselman said she’s excited most for the speaker series, one of which FNSA students will present at.
“I’m most looking forward to the educational workshops in the Pavilion,” Hasselman said via email. “It’s a cool space. Learn something new every year. I really love it that our Native students will get to share their experiences and culture this year too.”
The powwow will begin at 10:30 a.m. with Gourd Dancing, a tradition held to welcome home and honor elite military combat warriors through Tribal songs and dances, according to the website.
The first Grand Entry procession is at noon, and the second is at 6 p.m. Everyone will stand as the Color Guard carries in flags and the dancing begins.
“Grand Entry is my favorite part of any powwow; the bigger the better,” Hasselman said via email. “We seem to get more and more dancers every year. It’s everything. The drum, the color guard, seeing the whole collective of dancers — it’s so moving. You feel an enormous sense of pride and connection.”
The head staff for this year’s FNSA Powwow include Head Man Dancer Tony Wahweotten, Prairie Band Potawatomi; Head Lady Dancer Brennah Wahweotten, Prairie Band Potawatomi; Master of Ceremonies Manny King, Northern Cheyenne / Navajo; Arena Director Jeremy Shield, Crow; Host Northern Drum – Show Time Singers of South Dakota, with Head Singer Novi Runs Above; Host Southern Drum – Oklahoma All Nations Singers, with Head Singer Cornel Pewewardy; Head Gourd Dance Singer Cornel Pewewardy, Comanche / Kiowa; Head Gourd Dancer Timothy Robinson, Omaha; and Color Guard Wa Te Se Post # 410, Prairie Band Potawatomi, according to the website.
If you go
The powwow will be outdoors, contrary to previous years where it was either fully or partly located indoors and dancers danced on the Lied Center stage.
Organizers recommend powwow attendees bring lawn chairs to sit comfortably around the parking lot arena or pavement dance floor, similar to last year, according to the website. Seating will be available, but attendees should be aware of which locations are open. Chairs around the perimeter of the dance arena are reserved for the dancers, and people are asked to not position their chairs around the drums while allowing at least 10 feet of space if choosing to sit near a drum, according to the website.
Other considerations to note include that cameras are not allowed outside of phone cameras, which may be used. The emcee will announce which songs are OK to dance to. Pets are not allowed, with the exception of service animals.
Visit fnsapowwow.ku.edu for more information about the FNSA Powwow and Indigenous Cultures Festival, including more detailed information on proper etiquette for attending a powwow. There are also answers to frequently asked questions, prepared and shared by Jancita Warrington.
In the week leading up to the powwow and festival, a film, educational event and concert are planned:
• A film screening of “Beans,” directed by Tracey Deer, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 5 at the Haskell Indian Nations University auditorium.
• Cornel Pewewardy, vice-chairman of the Comanche Nation and former KU assistant professor, will present on “Unsettling Settler-Colonial Education” at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 6 at Jayhawk Welcome Center on KU’s campus.
• Singer Martha Redbone will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7 at the Lied Center. Visit the Lied Center’s website to purchase tickets.
Visit this link for more information about events happening before the powwow and festival.