and Nancy Ngo R…

by Joe Carlson

and Nancy Ngo

Rapid drumbeats drove the footsteps of 40 dancers in the normally quiet North Star Ballroom in the St. Paul Student Center. The jingle dresses of some female dancers provided a musical accompaniment, filling the room with sound and motion.
From this year forward, the annual fall celebration will be called the Ethel Curry Fall Welcome Feast and Powwow. This is the powwow’s fourth year.
The American Indian Learning Resource Center sponsored the event, which was attended by more than 250 University students and faculty who joined with their families and friends in attending the event.
After her death over a year ago, Curry left $1 million to help fund the education of American Indian Students attending University of Minnesota campuses.
This is the first year the scholarships, which are $3,000 per year for four years, will be distributed to students.
Three of the seven Ethel Curry American Indian Scholarship recipients are from the Twin Cities campus.
Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president for minority affairs and diversity, attended the event. Barcelo’s office supervises the monies from the Curry scholarship.
Barcelo said she felt honoring someone like Curry “recognizes the union of people at the University working together.”
David Isham, interim director of the American Indian Learning Resource Center, said the scholarship will be a helpful tool in recruiting and retaining American Indian students.
One of the scholarship recipients, Jeremy DeCory of the Lakota Rosebud Reservation, was present to dance in the powwow. DeCory, a freshman in the College of Natural Resources, said the availability of the scholarships influenced his decision to attend the University. He said he also considered Montana State University.
DeCory said this was the second University-sponsored powwow he has attended. Decory’s regalia, or dress, was that of a Grass Dancer. This regalia works with the motions of the dancer to represent prairie grass on a windy day. The Grass Dance can also be a celebration of victory over an enemy.
Two of Curry’s relatives were at the fall powwow.
Richard Kolstad, Curry’s nephew, said his aunt lived simply and gave no indication that she was wealthy.
“Nobody thought she had a dime,” Kolstad said.
Jeanne Angel, Curry’s niece, said she is not sure why her aunt gave scholarship money specifically to the American Indian community.
“We can only guess she knew Indians when she lived,” Angel said. Angel added that her aunt used to talk about American Indians passing through Curry’s hometown of Black River Falls, Wis.
Angel said the scholarships indicate that Curry was interested in higher education as well as American Indians. She had two degrees from the University, in mathematics and biology.
Kolstad said that even in her later years, Curry was an active woman, helping people with their tax returns until she was 102.
“On her 100th birthday she did a handstand in the lawn,” Kolstad said.
Kolstad said that if Curry were alive, she would be pleased to see the feast and powwow in her name.
Ramona Patzer, who is a Dakota and Ojibwe elder and a traditional dancer, said one of the main purposes of a powwow is to celebrate traditions and renew acquaintances.
“It’s a gathering for friendship, spirituality and healing,” Patzer said.
Patzer said that the tradition of powwows comes from the celebrations of Indian warriors. They were conducted at least four times a year, at the beginning of each season.
James Clairmont, who is from the Sicangu society and has been an announcer at powwows for four years, said that another purpose of the gatherings is education.
“We try to uphold the traditional teachings,” Clairmont said. “A lot of our philosophy comes from the old people,” who had much expertise and wisdom.
One of the main ideas in American Indian ideology is a wholeness, a connection between all things and people, Clairmont said.
This spiritual connection is celebrated with the powwow.
“There is a strong connectedness,” between dancers in a powwow, Patzer said. There is a positive energy that flows through the celebrants and brings participants together.
Patzer said that although the powwow was successful when measured by the number of people attendance, bringing the powwow indoors this year broke a connection with nature.
Clairmont said powwows are “a place to see old friends, meet new friends and have a good time.”