Waking up at 5:30 am the Saturday morning after Halloween was not an easy task. But somehow but I managed to get myself up and walk across campus in the freezing rain. I questioned my sanity on the way to my campus’s main building, but when I got there I knew it would all be worth it. As I ran around hanging up signs for the Native American Culture Association’s 4th Annual Powwow and helping Native American vendors set up their things, excitement replaced my sleepiness (well, as much as it could).
Even before the beginning of the my first Native American Pow Wow, I was shocked by how friendly and welcoming the Native American community was. As a non-Native American, I felt completely welcome and at-home. It helped break down that invisible barrier that often keeps people from participating in cultural events different from their own and I became excited to experience everything.
When the Powwow began, I got smudged for the very first time in my life. Smudging is a Native American cleansing practice which involves burning sage and other herbs. The purpose of it is to purify a person before they enter the sacred circle. At first I was hesitant to stand in front of everybody as they watched me get smoke blown on me by a feather, but it instantly made me feel much calmer. Maybe I was just happy to have participated in something or maybe these practices have some truth to them.
I also danced in the sacred circle, which is something I never imagined myself doing or even thought was possible. Previously, I had thought that only Native Americans were allowed to enter the sacred circle and dance, but this isn’t always true. Some songs are designated for Native Americans only and some are designated for people in regalia, but many of the songs are “intertribal”, which means all are welcome to dance.
When I was in the sacred circle, the only thing going through my head was the beat of the drum and my connection with the people around me. It was a very calming experience and it immediately put my mind in a meditative-type state.
I became involved with this group more out of curiosity and to open to new experiences. Growing up, most American students are taught about how this land used to belong to the Native Americans and how the Europeans came and took it over. In my first years as a college student, I became more and more interested in indigenous culture in Latin America and the struggles that indigenous people face there. When I saw that there was a Native American Culture Association at my university, I decided to join to learn more about indigenous groups in my own country.
Like I said my initial motivation was more out of curiosity than passion. I expected to experience something interesting, but instead I experienced something beautiful. I had the opportunity to work with and see a culture that, even after centuries of struggle, still manages to welcome and accept the people around them regardless of who they are.
I got to experience a culture that holds no grudges and still celebrates their culture as if they were never persecuted for it. Native American culture is something truly beautiful and I recommend that everybody go to a Powwow and experience it for themselves. From my own experience I can honestly say that the drum has a way of beating its way into your heart.
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