Nick Adrian, Staff Writer
November is Native American Heritage Month and JSU is helping to commemorate it.
On Tuesday, November 7, the JSU SGA hosted a Native American Cultural Celebration in the TMB Auditorium, welcoming members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Alex Alvarez served as the main speaker along with dancers from the Pow Wow Club.
Pow Wow is a style of dance which now serves as a “modern, contemporary look at Native American culture,” Alvarez says. “The dances, the steps, the regalia that you see today have notes of history, have notes of ancestry, but also combine themselves with modern identification, modern materials, (and) modern culture.”
Alvarez identified the difference between the two types of Pow Wow dances. The first, the Social Dance Pow Wow, was described as being traditionally used in ceremonies, family gatherings and other various events of that nature. The second, the Competition Pow Wow, is a dance used in events similar to the rodeo circuit where instead of top bull riders competing from place to place, the top dancers compete.
Alvarez started the night with a “Grand Entry,” showcasing all of his dancers performing their various styles at once. He pointed out that while the four dancers with him were male, Pow Wows often featured women with their own various styles of dance.
The dances showcased took roots from Creek as well as Chippewa tribes. They ranged from styles of Northern Traditional, a contemporary evolution of dance deeply rooted in the practices of warrior societies; Men’s Grass, a dance whose regalia generally features no feathers; and the Chicken Dance, one of the oldest forms of Native American dancing.
The different dances are identified through the various types of regalia worn. The accessories on the dancer’s outfits range from eagle feathers to pheasant feathers and from long beads to otter skins.
After showcasing the dances, Alvarez went on to talk about various instruments in Native American culture. He played two kinds of flutes, the Cedar and River Canyon.
“Flutes were mainly a form of entertainment,” he said as he prepared his instruments, adding their use in ceremonies and courtship. He then demonstrated various types of rattles.
Alvarez went on to show a popular Native American game that served as the inspiration for what we know now as lacrosse. The game, historically called the “Little Brother of War,” is played by one opponent tossing the ball with two wooden sticks and the other catching it with the sticks, never using their hands. However, some games could range from a hundred to a thousand men from opposing villages or tribes playing.
Along with showcasing the various forms of Native American dances, instruments and games, Alvarez touched on history, ancestry, stereotypes and how the culture is treated today: “It’s tough to talk about, but at the same time, I want you all to walk away with a better understanding of my ancestors.”
And after such an educational night, it is safe to say that everyone in the audience did.