As dozens of students and adults in casual dress and two little girls in pink Wellies joined a line of spectacularly dressed Native American dancers circling in a step dance in Thompson Arena, Justin Boos '96 pulled his folding chair out of the circle of his drum group, Youngbird.
“For me, this is a time to come back and meet with friends, faculty, and the administration,” says Boos, who flew from Boulder, Colorado, to drum with Youngbird, one of four drum groups performing in the 34th Annual Dartmouth Pow-Wow on May 13-14. “I got a lot, both educationally and culturally, from Dartmouth. They do a lot for Native American students.”
That this year's Pow-Wow Weekend was the most comprehensive yet—with academic, professional, organizational, entertainment, and social activities beginning on Thursday evening—is a sign of the latest energy uptick happening around the Dartmouth Native American community.
In addition to attracting traditional dancers from 50 tribes across the country, the weekend included a first-time visit from members of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and the honoring of Dean of the College Jim Larimore (who's leaving in August to take a similar position at Swarthmore College) for his support of the Native American Program during his 15 years at Dartmouth.
Two new events drew crowds of interested students and alums: a career panel featuring Native American alumni in diverse professions and a rare collected showing of the historical papers of Samson Occum, the Mohegan Indian who was instrumental in the founding of Dartmouth College in 1769. An evening reception in the faculty lounge at the Top of the Hop gave students and alums another chance to get together.
“One of the strongest areas of interest for alumni who come back to campus is meeting with students,” notes Debbie Atuk Tu'04, president of the Native American Alumni Association of Dartmouth, whose board members held their annual meeting during the weekend and worked hard to plan programming around the Pow-Wow.
David Bonga '74, who made his first visit to campus in 25 years to participate in the career panel, pronounced the students who attended “a joy,” and said he can't wait to return. An enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Bonga is a 1982 graduate of Gonzaga Law School who serves the Kalispel Tribe as in-house legal counsel, magistrate, program administrator, and tribal planner and is an appointed justice to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation's Court of Appeals.
Joining Bonga in the career panel were Drew Ryce '74, Darren Ranco '93, and Atuk.
Atuk is a principal for two Internet startups related to Internet video-on-demand. She spent several years in investment banking, first at ABN AMRO and then at SG Cowen in Chicago.
An enrolled member of the Mohawk Indian Tribe of Canada, Ryce has had his own law practice since 1988, with clients including Fox Family Studios, Saban Entertainment, Shavick Studios, and Left Bank Management. From 1993 to 1995 he also served as the head of the entertainment law department for the 258-lawyer megafirm Sedgwick, Detert, Moran and Arnold.
Ranco, an assistant professor at Dartmouth, has a joint appointment in Native American studies and environmental studies. His research focuses on the ways indigenous communities in the United States resist environmental destruction by using local knowledge and how state knowledge systems continue to expose indigenous peoples to inordinate environmental risk.
On Saturday morning, attention turned away from how to get there from here to how Dartmouth was founded, as alumni gathered at the Rauner Special Collections Library to see the papers of Samson Occum in an exhibit assembled by College archivist Peter Carini.
A member of the Mohegan Nation and the first Indian student in Eleazar Wheelock's preparatory school in Connecticut, Occum played a co-founding role with Wheelock in the establishment of the College in 1769. It was Occum's successful fundraising trip through Europe, Professor Ivy Schweitzer explained, that enabled the College to be created.
“I heard some of this history when I was a student, but it's a rare opportunity to see his papers together, because they're kept in different places on campus,” said Ryan Howard '01, secretary on the NAAAD board, who traveled from California to attend Pow-Wow Weekend. “We saw Occum's letters, journals, even the notes he made in the margins of his Bible.”
And of course the heart of the weekend was the Pow-Wow, funded and run by the student group Native Americans at Dartmouth, with the assistance of the Native American Program. This year, Tawney Hale, from Pico Rivera, California, was the head woman dancer, and Alfred Seaboy, from Sisseton, South Dakota, was the head man dancer. Bear Creek, from Sault St. Marie, Ontario, was the host northern drum, and the Grammy-nominated Youngbird, from Pawnee, Oklahoma, was the host southern drum.
“We have a long-lasting relationship with a lot of the participants and attendees,” said Michael Hanitchak, director of NAP. “Every year, I catch up with a lot of folks I see only here.”
One of them is Woody Vanderhoop '96, who has traveled from his home on Martha's Vineyard to drum at the Dartmouth Pow-Wow almost every year since he graduated and this year performed with Bear Creek.
As students, Vanderhoop and Boos both helped reestablish the Occum Pond student drum group, who also performed this year.
“What's nice is that each year, the Pow-Wow reflects the parts of the country the current students are from, so it's always changing a little,” said Vanderhoop. “Pow-Wow Weekend has gone in waves over the years, but overall, it's definitely getting bigger.”