Portland Community College's 14th Annual Traditional Pow-Wow Poster

Portland Students Connect to Their Roots at Winter Pow Wow

Tish Leizens

For the Native American students of Oregon’s Portland Community College (PCC), powwows are not just about drumming, dancing, and fun but an annual tradition of giving, sharing, and connecting to their roots.

The one-day Wacipi traditional Pow Wow scheduled for Saturday, January 19 to be held at the Sylvania Multicultural Center, is on its 14th year and going strong. This year it has been dubbed: “A Celebration of Native American Culture and Tradition.”

Young Dancer at PCC's 13th Annual Traditional Pow Wow (Photo Credit: James Hill)“Last year we doubled our scholarships,” said Stephan Herrera, program assistant at PCC Sylvania Multicultural Center, citing that in the past years proceeds from the powwow only went to one deserving Native student per year. “We want to expand even more.”

While the event is free to the public, including a prepared dinner by volunteer students, the powwow raises money to fund scholarships from renting space to vendors and students selling merchandise.

“We want to take this opportunity to engage students, the larger PCC community and the Native students,” said Herrera. About 200 volunteers make it possible to serve about 1,000 dinner plates. Guests mostly come from Oregon and Washington area.

“The reason we started this event at PCC Sylvania campus coincided with our decision about 13 years ago to put up a public sculpture which was a totem pole, and Mr. Hunts totem pole was erected in a big ceremony here—that was our original powwow,” said Linda Gerber, Sylvania Campus president, during the 2012 powwow celebration.

Gerber referred to the work of Richard Hunt, a fourth generation Kwa-Gulth (Kwakuitl) artist who carved a 30-foot totem pole. “We are going back to our school and our kids are coming back to what is theirs’—their culture,” said Hunt when he started with the totem pole. “I see it as an art form, but it comes from a culture. It is like a cross or a menorah.”

Portland Community College's totem pole carved by Richard HuntAlice Jacobson, executive dean at the Sylvania campus, who spearheaded the yearlong project, said the totem pole told the story about Oregon’s native community.

“The project is intended to be a catalyst for ongoing, community-oriented educational programs and collaborations that will highlight and draw attention to Native American arts and culture,” she said.

“It allows students to take part in PCC signature diversity events and broaden their views on Native American culture,” said Herrera, citing that the powwow is about “diversity, inclusion and equity as it relates to Native American students.”

For instance, in the past powwows, Herrera said there were intercultural performances, such as a performance by the Vietnamese Students Association. He said performance by non-native student groups vary.

This 2013 powwow, there will be 10 guest drums, raffle prizes, Native American crafts, and food vendors. The door opens at noon, with children activities, from noon to 9 p.m.; college fair from noon to 4 p.m.; grand entries 1 and 7 p.m.; and community dinner at 5:30 p.m.

The performers are Bob Tom (Confederated Tribes of Siletz & Grand Ronde) as Master of Ceremonies; Ed Goodell (Confederated Tribes of Siletz); and the Northwest Indian Veterans Association as Color Guards.

Scene from PCC's 13th Annual Traditional Pow Wow (Photo Credit: James Hill)The co-host drums are Four Directions and Johonaaii, while the head dancers are husband and wife Jason and Gina Stacona. All of which are local to the area.

Herrera said that like the previous year, the powwow will be streamed live on video feed on their website.

Students volunteering to make the powwow a success have personally gained from participation. Last year, Jessica Ditmore (Oklahoma Cherokee, non-enrolled) and Philip Hartman (Quecha, Inca) experienced their first powwow.

“Growing up I’ve always was interested in reading about my culture and in college I’ve been more involved in the community,” Ditmore said. “For me it’s just an opportunity to be involved with the local Native American community and to eat Indian fry bread tacos.”

Hartman said, “I started learning more about Native American culture through the college and since I’m part Incan, I’m learning more about that here.”

He added, “For me the powwow is probably about community, educating people about the Native community and eating really good food.”

Watch the highlights from last year's PCC Annual Traditional Pow-Wow:

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