Yale News

The Association of Native Americans at Yale announced at the end of November that they have secured University funding to periodically host a powwow — a celebration of Indigenous people and culture.

ANAAY held a powwow in 2018 and 2017, but the event was absent from campus for over 10 years before that. Last year, the powwow — the seventh in Yale history — coincided with ANAAY’s 25th anniversary. According to ANAAY’s announcement, there was no powwow this year due to the “enormous labor” needed to put on the event. But with this new funding — which will come from the Yale College Dean’s Office as a payment of $20,000 every two years — Yale’s campus is guaranteed a biennial powwow.

“This institutional support is necessary in order to keep the powwow an integral part of the Yale experience, not only for Native students, but for the Yale community as a whole,” ANAAY’s statement announcing the funding read. “We’re excited to be able to continue to share dancing, food, and music with the Yale community, and with each other.”

ANAAY’s announcement underscored the amount of work that went into securing the funding, which they wrote “has been a goal of ANAAY’s since its founding in 1989.” According to the announcement, past powwows have been possible through “tedious fundraising efforts” and external grants, but attaining these revenue sources put “enormous stress” on students and advisors. The statement recognized some of the past donors of the powwow as well as the Native students and Native administrators who helped throughout the “years of proposals and labor.”

In a September interview with the News, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said that the University “[planned] on providing institutional support for the powwows” beginning this year. He noted that while it was not “practical” nor “feasible” to have the powwow every year, he was discussing a more appropriate schedule with Native leaders out of a desire to “relieve the fundraising burden from the students.”

“The Native American Cultural Center is proud to work with [ANAAY] to sponsor a biannual powwow,” Director of the NACC Matthew Makomenaw wrote in an email to the News. “The director and assistant director of the Native American Cultural Center listened to student voices about funding for the powwow and made a commitment to ensure that the powwow will happen every other year.”

Last year’s ANAAY President Gabriella Blatt ’21 wrote in an email to the news that “most tribes often have thousands of dollars” set aside for hosting a powwow, which she noted is similar at other universities as well. She added that Native communities initially hosted powwows to “gain visibility on campus,” but saw that the powwow also became “popular with non-Native students and New England communities as a whole.”

Blatt said that over the 25 years since first proposing institutionalization of the powwow, ANAAY wrote “several proposals to the Yale College Dean’s Office.” Funding was a fundamental issue for the powwow, which allowed Native students to “feel at home at Yale.” But Blatt added that the powwow is also important “for others to experience as well.” She noted that while the Yale administration had advertised the powwow as a part of Yale’s campus, they offered “little to no support in funding before this year.”

“If our image and work is being used to recruit prospective Native students, we should at least be compensated for it,” Blatt said.

According to newly elected ANAAY President Meghanlata Gupta ’21, the powwow represents what is often an intertribal celebration of Indigenous life. She added that powwows often feature dancing, Native vendors, food, drum groups and other activities like contests. Gupta said that the institutionalization of the powwow is “really important” because it highlights Indigenous presence and survival.

Gupta added that in years past, students were so focused on securing funding for the powwow that they could not dedicate as much time to planning the event. With the new financial security of the event, Gupta said that students can now “focus on the things that are really important.”

“I think it’s also just important to have these types of events in a space like Yale, which wasn’t created for Indigenous students and to have the power be inside Yale, within the system,” Gupta said. “It’s something that’s really powerful, and I think it’s really beautiful.”

While ANAAY members are still in the midst of planning, Blatt said that they are hoping to put on a spring powwow next year. The ANAAY’s powwow has typically been a one-day event, but Blatt added that the celebrations can range from one day to one week. According to Blatt, powwows are often the “largest, most recognizable cultural events” that many tribes in the United States host.

Makomenaw echoed Blatt’s earlier comments, noting that the powwow “is open to everyone.” He added that all members of the Yale and New Haven community are encouraged to attend the event, which he called a “cultural celebration where Native American communities come together to sing, dance and socialize.”

“For me, growing up, powwows were the biggest celebrations of the year,” Blatt said. “It’s a time to get together with friends and family, and they hold a lot of significance for Native people.”

The NACC was founded in 2013, making it the youngest of Yale’s four official cultural centers.

Alayna Lee | alayna.lee@yale.edu