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Intertribal Powwow returns to Bloomington, helping Indigenous community heal

Members of different tribes performed social dances at IU's traditional powwow.
Elizabeth DeSantis
Members of different tribes performed social dances at IU's traditional powwow.

Guests packed the Ray E. Cramer Marching Hundred Hall on Saturday to watch and participate in IU’s first in-person, traditional, intertribal powwow since the start of the pandemic.

Indigenous tribes from across the U.S. and Canada sent representatives to perform dances, showcasing traditional regalia and singing or making music in drum groups.

Event organizers originally planned to hold the event outdoors at Dunn Meadow, but they moved to Cramer Hall because of cold temperatures and forecasted snow.

Collectors and Indigenous artisans were selling arts, crafts and regalia on site.

A team from the Indiana State Department of Health was present to administer COVID-19 vaccines, in a reminder of the hardships that Indigenous communities across the country faced with COVID-19.

A 2020 study from the CDC showed that incidences of infection was 3.5 times higher for American Indian and Alaska Native populations than white non-Hispanic individuals.

For many in the Indigenous community, Saturday’s powwow was the first in two years. The same event was held virtually last year, according to event volunteers.

IU student and powwow volunteer Catherine Bartlett said it was difficult to have part of her culture missing throughout the pandemic.

“It was definitely very disheartening to not be connected with your culture,” Bartlett said. “I know that everyone is going through it but ceremonies are such a big and important part of our culture. So not having that for a couple years, and the fact that a lot of Indigenous communities really got impacted by COVID-19.”

Head Lady Dancer Bridget Blackowl is Cheyenne and Arapaho. She shared how this event and others like it are helping the community move on with dance.

“[We] enjoy vitally being together. During the pandemic we suffered losses, you know, everyone is in their homes. And we’re all trying to play it safe,” he said. “For this event to happen, we’re finally getting out there and making the best of it because we all love to dance."

Blackowl says that the powwow dances usually happen every weekend in the summer. With mask mandates being slowly rolled back across the country, there may be more such gatherings in the summer months.