Courtesy Megan Baker
Columbia University's Native American Council hosted its 2nd annual powwow on April 15, 2012 at Pupin Plaza.

Columbia University Native Students Are Taking Back Manhattan

Simon Moya-Smith
April 12, 2013


The Native American students of Columbia University in New York City are plotting to take back the island of Manhattan.

Their tactic? A pow wow.

The third annual Columbia University pow wow is scheduled for April 14 from noon to 6 p.m. and has been dubbed “Taking Back Manhattan.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat, a sophomore and citizen of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation, said the pow wow committee decided on the name because they wanted to “remind people that Manhattan is a Lenape word and that we are on Lenape territory and that this is Indian country.”

Manhattan, in Lenape, means “island of many hills.”

“While ‘Taking Back Manhattan’ might sound very political, we thought that it would be an appropriate way to remind people, in a not necessarily political way, that we’re here,” said NoiseCat. “It reminds people through the title that New York City is actually an indigenous space.”

Lakota Pochedley of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and president of the Native American Council said three years ago there were only five organizers meeting in a dorm room to discuss the possibility of a pow wow at Columbia. Now, there are 10 to 20 people exchanging ideas on any given night at the university’s Intercultural Resource Center.

“It’s crazy to think about how much the pow wow has grown in a matter of three years,” she said. “It very much matches how the [Native] community has grown [at Columbia].”

“Each year it continues to get bigger and bigger,” Pochedley added.

The pow wow will take place at Wien Plaza on the Columbia University campus, at 116th and Amsterdam in New York’s Morningside Heights neighborhood.

Mystic River of Mystic, Connecticut, will be the host drum and Silvercloud Singers of Manhattan are the guest drum, said NoiseCat.

Pow wow-goers can expect to see competitions in women’s fancy, women’s traditional, eastern blanket, men’s traditional, men’s grass and fancy dance and men’s eastern war dance.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are actually a lot of Indians in New York,” said NoiseCat. “And by bringing them together in this one place is, in a visible way, very beneficial for the people who come to school here.”

“Having a powwow on campus is vital to maintaining our Native presence on campus,” Mariah Gladstone of the Blackfeet and Cherokee nations and an engineering student at Columbia said. “It lets others know that Natives are alive and well and have a flourishing culture that has adapted to the times. Every graduate from this university should know that they went to school with First Americans.”

The Native American Council will serve bison stew at no charge to the singers and dancers. The Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation as well as the New York Indian Council will donate the buffalo meat.

According to the pow wow’s Facebook page, there is still space for vendors.