The Carolina Indian Circle celebrated its 30th annual powwow Saturday at Fetzer Gym with more than 30 dancers from American Indian tribes from throughout North Carolina participating in the ceremony.

“It is a spectacular gift for our University,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said. “It’s a chance for all of us to be a part of a beautiful culture with wisdom, grace, excitement and beautiful dancing. … It is a treasure.”

Donning customary powwow regalia of colorful beads, furs and feathers, dancers and drummers performed ceremonial dances and songs. Traditionally a social gathering for American Indian tribes, the powwow now is an opportunity to welcome the larger community into the vibrant culture.

“Powwows today, and the way that we celebrate them today, are really a way for our people to connect into culture, and display and practice culture in a very public way,” said Amy Locklear Hertel, director of Carolina’s American Indian Center. “It’s a way to celebrate native culture and bring an awareness of native people to campus.”

For Elena Polanco, co-chair of the powwow committee and member of the Lumbee Tribe, the event is a chance to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about modern-day American Indians.

“A lot of aspects about our culture are often seen as private,” she said. “But with a powwow, it’s a way for us to be able to tell people who we are and that we’re still here, that we’re still alive, our culture is still thriving.”

In addition to the dancing, the five-hour celebration featured traditional foods and vendors showcasing their crafts — another way to share the culture with the Carolina community.

“[The powwow has] grown larger and larger and we’ve seen more support from the University community as the powwow was grown over the years,” Hertel said. “We’re even seeing the Chapel Hill community embracing the powwow. We see the Chancellor embracing powwow. The Chancellor has been to our powwow every year since she became chancellor here.”

Hertel hopes that powwow isn’t just a one-time exposure, but a starting point for students and the community member to learn more about the culture.

“I hope that students come into powwow and experience it in a way that encourages them to want to learn more, to understand and learn, to seek out the community on campus and learn more about American Indian people and culture,” she said. “I hope that it’s a beginning of a journey for others.”

Video by Melanie Busbee, photos by Jon Gardiner, story by Brandon Bieltz, University Communications
Published March 4, 2017

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