Annual powwow celebrates tradition, educates on Native American culture

With vendors, singing and dancing and native food, there is much to see and do at the 10th annual New Faces of an Ancient People traditional American Indian powwow. But at the center of it all is the idea of family.

“It’s really a very family oriented event. A lot of the people that come have been there six, seven, eight times before,” Penn State professor John Sanchez, the powwow coordinator and a member of the Apache nation, said. “We’ve seen their kids grow up from being carried in their arms to running around the powwow with other Indian kids from different tribes.”

The powwow will take place April 6-7 at the Mount Nittany Middle School. The doors will open at 11 a.m. both days and the event will run until 10 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday.

Sanchez estimated that 6,000 people attended the event last year.

“You will see and hear native people — people who are truly American Indians — sing in our own languages songs that are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. And you’ll see native people dressed in tribal regalia, stuff that’s been handed down and handed down and handed down for hundreds of years,” Sanchez said. “And they’ll be dancing steps the way that our elders and our ancestors have danced for hundreds and hundreds of years. And I think that alone is kind of cool.”

The event, which Sanchez said is one of the bigger traditional powwows, features about 160 dancers who come from about 20 different reserves around the country.

“Most of the people come from somewhere else,” Sanchez said. “The Mohawks down from Canada, the Ojibwe from Wisconsin, the Navajo and some Apache from Arizona, a lot of Dakota and Lakota people from North and South Dakota, Montana ... they come from all over. It’s hard to believe they come from all over to such a little town.”

The traditional powwow focuses on intertribal dancing, which means that everyone is dancing together.

“It’s more of a social event. It’s almost, in a way, a big family reunion,” said Victoria Sanchez, John Sanchez’s wife. “And that also means that the people who are attending the powwow are dancing. They’re invited into the arena to dance as well. You don’t have to be native to join and participate.”

But there is far more to see and do at the powwow. There will be native vendors selling American Indian items, a storyteller, native foods like buffalo burgers and American Indian fry bread and even a traditional American Indian wedding ceremony.

“I think we have about 20 vendors,” John Sanchez said. “We have one vendor who comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and brings about a million dollars worth of silver and turquoise. It’s crazy.”

“There are people who save their money all year long to do their gift shopping at the powwow,” Victoria Sanchez added.

The storyteller, Dolores Santha, is an 88-year-old Comanche and Seneca women who is particularly popular among children. John Sanchez said that she comes to the powwow every year from Missouri.

“Probably no one” knows the stories she tells, he said. “It’s an oral tradition, and that’s how we keep it going. Nobody writes them down.”

Diane Reed, a teacher at Mount Nittany Middle School and a former event volunteer, said the education that the powwow can bring is also important.

“It’s very important for kids to understand that American Indian groups are here and very much a part of our culture and very much a part of our history,” Reed said. “So the powwow is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the culture and see that this is a group of people that are keeping their traditions alive and are a vital part of our community.”

Victoria Sanchez said: “It really is a living, breathing, very alive cultural tradition.”