Powwow held at University of St. Thomas

Sascha Matuszak

The past echoed through the University of St. Thomas this weekend as more than 4,000 Native Americans gathered to dance, sing and compete.
Thunderous drumming and stirring chants accompanied the dancers as they stomped and jingled at the 12th annual powwow at St. Thomas, leaving many Caucasians gaping in awe.
But powwows are a dime a dozen for most American Indians.
“A lot of us make a good living traveling from powwow to powwow all over the nation,” said John Malnourie, a member of the Arikara tribe from Fort Berthold, N.D. “There’s another one in Sussiton next week.”
Powwows provide not only a place to see old friends, but an opportunity to make money.
About 200 dancers competed for $20,000 in prize money. Drum groups competed for $6,000. The winner of a new hand-drum contest won $1,500.
The St. Thomas powwow began as an alternative to the country powwows, often a fair distance away from the city.
“Usually, inner-city people can’t make it out there,” said Barbara Raygor.
Raygor and Prosper Waukon organized St. Thomas’ first powwow with the help of Robert Qualls, associate dean of the university’s School of Continuing Studies.
Children ran around the drum circle and through the university, playing tag and football while adults chatted, watching the children and the competition.
“People ask you where you’re from, what clan and so on,” Raygor said. “Now, I can sometimes tell which reservation and which tribe a person is from just by hearing their last name.”
Because of the coming winter, the powwow was held indoors, but that didn’t detract from the spellbinding music.
Hokie Clairmont, a Twin Cities resident, is the lead singer for The Boys, the drum group that impressed many during the first competitive session Saturday afternoon.
A drum group consists of five to eight drummers beating on a central drum. All of the drummers also sing in a high-pitched cadence with one singer leading them. A typical song lasts about five minutes and inspires dancers to circle and stomp to the beat.
“We talk about the powwow, what goes on at the powwow and how we want it to be,” Clairmont said. “We just want everyone to enjoy themselves.”

Sascha Matuszak welcomes comments at [email protected]