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Shawl dancer Alexis Jones participates in the 41st annual Bemidji State University Council of Indian Students Pow-Wow Saturday afternoon. She was one of 232 dancers registered for the first session. 16 drum groups performed over the weekend. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BSU Council of Indian Students Pow-Wow popular event, continues today

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BEMIDJI — Hundreds of people adorned in vibrant, jingling regalia danced to the beat of 15 vivacious drum circles accompanied by human harmonies in the John Glas Fieldhouse at BSU Saturday afternoon. The first grand entry for the 41st annual Pow-Wow had 232 registered dancers, more were anticipated at the evening performance after the feast.

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The BSU Council of Indian Students hosts the event every year. Council president Samantha Fairbanks helped organize the powwow. Fairbanks is a senior at BSU studying social work and indian studies.

“This is actually the only pow-wow that’s hosted in the Bemidji area,” Fairbanks said. “A lot of people look forward to and expect this pow-wow.”

The BSU pow-wow is held indoors because there aren’t pow-wow grounds in Bemidji like there are on reservations. During pow-wow season in the summer pow-wows will be held outdoors on reservation lands.

“A pow-wow is a cultural event for the reservations and different tribal communities to come together and celebrate culture,” Fairbanks said.

She explained historically Indian religion was banned up until 1979 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act removed restrictions. Prior to the act, Fairbanks said, Indians would use powwows to practice their religion in the open by holding sacred ceremonies inside the events.

Although Fairbanks doesn’t dance these days, she remembers participating as a child at the Ball Club Pow-Wow on the Leech Lake reservation. She and her family attend the Ball Club Pow-Wow every year.

“There’s a saying that the family that dances together stays together,” Fairbanks said. “It’s really cute when you see the generations of families dancing together.”

Dancers usually perform six different dance styles such as the jingle dress dancers, fancy shawl dancers, women’s traditional, men’s traditional, grass dancers and chicken dancers.

“I remember somebody telling me before that the louder your bells are, the more they will notice you,” Fairbanks said. “That’s for competition pow-wows, this is more of a traditional pow-wow.”

Fairbanks said it’s not a requirement for a person to be Native American to participate but it may not be well received by some of the elder population who were more closely affected by historical trauma.

“I think some people would be offended if they saw someone of a different ethnicity out there in regalia,” Fairbanks said. “To me, I welcome everybody.”

In the spirit of welcoming all people, the Council of Indian Students has seen a dwindling number of members. Three years ago, when Fairbanks joined the council, there were 12 members organizing the pow-wow. This year there were three: Fairbanks, Amber Dorr and Thomas Sullivan.

The council is a non-profit group that does it’s own fundraising since not much funding is available from the college, Fairbanks said. Being a non-profit allows the organization to accept donations.

Students on the council also host Native American Heritage Month in November at the college which kicks-off with a fall powwow. Fairbanks said the events help with recruiting Indian people to attend the college and with providing cultural activities for existing students.

“It’s retention for the students that are already here, being part of the council of Indian students and knowing there is an organization here that offers cultural events and allows you to be part of those events,” Fairbanks said.

Students at BSU don’t have to be Native American to be on the council.

“It’s an open council, it’s an open opportunity for everybody,” Fairbanks said.

The Pow-Wow will continue on Sunday with a grand entry at 1 p.m. Participants are required to be dressed at the time of registration between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Doors open to the public at noon. The event is emceed by Tom Cain and Mickey Hodges with the TC Boyz as host drum. Spiritual advisor for the pow-wow is Daryl King and Darrell Northbird is the arena director. The council of Indian students invites people of all cultures to the event.

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Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts and Beltrami county government for The Bemidji Pioneer. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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