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Powwow may take last bow this weekend

Comanche and Seneca Native American storyteller Delores Santha, 89, of St. Louis, tells stories to children at the Park Forest Day Nursery Preschool. Santha is visiting schools in State College to promote the New Faces of an Ancient People Traditional Powwow, which will be held this weekend at the Mount Nittany Middle School.
Comanche and Seneca Native American storyteller Delores Santha, 89, of St. Louis, tells stories to children at the Park Forest Day Nursery Preschool. Santha is visiting schools in State College to promote the New Faces of an Ancient People Traditional Powwow, which will be held this weekend at the Mount Nittany Middle School. CDT photo

This weekend, New Faces of an Ancient People, the 11th annual traditional American Indian Powwow will take place at Mount Nittany Middle School.

According to organizer John Sanchez, there will be no 12th annual event.

It isn’t that the event is suffering from a lack of attendance. An estimated 6,000 people attend the two-day celebration every year.

It isn’t that it is hard to get participants. About 150 dancers from 20 different reservations across the country are traveling to Centre County this year.

The problem is that Sanchez, a professor teaching news media ethics at Penn State, cannot do it all alone.

“Mostly because it just takes a year to plan,” he said.

Sanchez is looking to retire soon. Spending time negotiating with drummers and dancers, arranging the event itself and, most importantly, fundraising to support it is a lot of work.

“We’ve tried everything we can think of,” he said.

A Ndeh Apache, Sanchez said that he is, to his knowledge, the only current American Indian faculty member at Penn State, which sponsors the powwow along with State College Area School District.

Keeping his culture alive is important to him, something he has shared with his boys. Son Brave Heart Sanchez is the assistant arena director for the event.

“Our powwow is very traditional,” he said. “It’s one of the very few traditional powwows left in the country. It focuses on our culture, our language, keeping it alive.”

There are ways, however, it is different. This year, it will feature something Sanchez says has never happened before. The head veteran dancer is traditionally a male combat veteran.

Robin Bowen, a Sisseton/Wahpeton Dakota Sioux who served in Operation Desert Storm, will hold the honor of being the first woman in that role.

“It’s really a breakthrough,” said Sanchez, who added that he has been asked if he’s sure it is the right thing to do.

“People think that we are stuck in how things were, but native people know we have always been progressive, always pushed forward.”

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