Campus cultural leader reflects on Graduation Pow Wow history
The Traditional Graduation Pow Wow celebrates 30 years
2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Annual Traditional Graduation Pow Wow at the University of Manitoba. With the involvement of many staff, faculty, community members and students, the Pow Wow has continued to grow throughout the years. UM Today sat down with Carl Stone, a student advisor at the Indigenous Student Centre and long-time Pow Wow participant, to reflect on how the celebration came to be what it is today.
The first Annual Traditional Graduation Pow Wow
Student Margaret King initiated the first Pow Wow at the U of M. King had experienced racism and felt that something needed to be done to bring cultural awareness to campus. With the support of Kali Storm — then the Native Student Advisor — and committee members Earl Hall and Sharon Pelletier, it was decided that the Pow Wow would honour Indigenous graduates.
A committee formed and the planning began. Community members, students, staff and faculty came together and began organizing and fundraising. To combine resources, organizers from the University of Winnipeg were invited to celebrate their graduates at the same time.
Stone described how the planning committee looked to the University of North Dakota’s ‘Time-Out Wacipi powwow’ – which has been running since 1968 – as inspiration for how the community would run its own celebration. Students, staff and committee members drove down to Grand Forks to get a sense of how things were organized and brought that knowledge home.
And so, in fall of 1989, the first Traditional Graduation Pow Wow was held in the Multipurpose Room in University Centre to a packed room. There was no formal registration process, nor avenues for students to self-declare Indigenous ancestry, so there is no record of exact numbers of attendees. “There wasn’t even internet at that time,” Stone laughed.
Stone attended the first Pow Wow hosted on campus as both a member of a drum group and as a graduate of a certificate program in 1989. “We were a small drum group at that time, and we heard about the Pow Wow by word-of-mouth,” he says. “So we showed up late, and sang a few songs and left early.” He also recalled receiving his certificate and a braid of sweet grass that year.
After receiving his certificate at the first Pow Wow, Stone returned to campus in 1995 as a student as well as an active member of the Pow Wow planning committee. At that point, Stone recalls the ongoing support that came from the surrounding community both in organizational and fundraising initiatives.
From then to now
Eventually, both the U of M and University of Winnipeg began hosting their own Graduation Pow Wows.
Carl notes that the organizational structure of the U of M’s Pow Wow is now concentrated on members of the campus community. With more funding available and less time needed to fundraise, Indigenous students, staff and allies on campus lead the organization. “The Pow Wow represents Indigenous nations, voices and presence here,” he says. “When Indigenous people succeed in any space, it is important to incorporate culture and ceremony into our celebration.”
Stone also mentions the struggles Indigenous students may face on campus, noting that post-secondary institutions were not created with them in mind. “I hope the students recognize where it comes from, and that [the Pow Wow] can help them see themselves here and help with their self-esteem and self-worth.”
Stone talks about the importance of self-discovery and reflects on its importance during his younger years. “I come from a generation that was taught to believe that my Indigenous heritage was non-existent.” His journey in self-discovery now informs his work as a student advisor, organizer of Fireside Chats, cultural leader and co-facilitator of Zongiigabowin’s Men’s Group.
Stone believes it is important to acknowledge Indigenous graduates and celebrate the work that takes place here. “It lets the institutions know that we exist here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
What to expect for this year
If this is your first time attending the Pow Wow, Stone suggests spending as much time as possible observing and taking in the dancing. “Listen to the emcees, as they are the ones distributing information,” he said, adding the many Pow Wow volunteers and organizers can also answer questions.
It is of important note, Stone added, to be respectful of the Elders present, as well as of the dancers’ regalia. As a general rule, consent applies before photographing regalia and touching is discouraged. Ceremonies are also off-limits for photographs, including the opening pipe ceremony.
For more helpful tips, please read Graduation Pow Wow 101.