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The making of a Pow wow

Students build leadership skills planning one of CMU’s largest cultural events

Contact: Heather Smith


​​​​​​​​​​Meet Larissa Schneidewind, Hannah Bartol and Olivia Manitowabi-McCullough​. For the past three years, these Central Michigan University students have worked with the staff in Native American Programs and fellow students to plan one of the largest cultural events on campus – the CMU Pow wow.

Their months of hard work will pay off as CMU hosts the 27th annual CMU Pow wow, "Celebrating Life," March 19 and 20 at the CMU Events Center. The event is open to the public, and admission is free for CMU students.

Organizing the pow wow is more than just any job or leadership experience for this trio. The two-day event is an opportunity to bring together CMU students and outside communities – Native and non-Native – to celebrate and learn about Native American culture, interact across generations, ask questions, sample food and enjoy the company of relatives or those who have become like family.

"I get to educate others, but I'm also learning," said Hannah Bartol, a junior from Wilson and co-chair of the CMU Pow wow. "It has given me a kind of leadership experience that I didn't have before."

Serving on the planning committee as a CMU student also has become a family legacy for Bartol and committee member Manitowabi-McCullough, also a junior from Wilson. Both students had relatives who served on the committee and participated in the event before they were CMU students. As they looked toward college, the chance to help plan the pow wow was one of many things that made them excited about coming to CMU.

Co-chair Schneidewind, a senior from Peck, says one of her favorite parts of the event is the Grand Entry – the moment when head dancers lead participants into McGuirk Arena – which she says is equal parts beautiful and powerful.

Bartol and Schneidewind hope fellow CMU students and the Mount Pleasant community will come and learn more about Native American culture.

"Sometimes, we don't know what we don't know, but anyone can come and ask questions of volunteers at the event," Schneidewind said. "That is how I learned. I'm a non-Native student, but I always feel welcome and at home."​

Hundreds from tribes in the U.S. and Canada will take part in this year's pow wow, hosted in partnership with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. The event includes dance and drumming competitions. Planning committee members and volunteers will be on hand to answer questions. Attendees also receive a program that explains the meaning behind traditional regalia, songs and dances.

In addition to observing Native American dance and drumming, attendees may sample traditional food and shop at the booths of more than 20 vendors.

Doors open at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Grand entries take place Saturday at 1 and 7 p.m. and Sunday at noon. For the general public, tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for elders and children. Admission is free for children four years or under. A weekend pass also may be purchased for $15.

For more informa​tion on the event, dignitaries and special admission, visit the CMU Pow wow event page.​​​​

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For Hannah Bartol, a junior from the Hannahville Indian Community near Escanaba, involvement in the CMU Pow wow began before she ever set foot on campus as a student.

When Bartol was a senior in high school, she came to the event to help her sister – a member on the CMU Pow wow Planning Committee. It was another reason to get excited about coming to CMU the next semester and join the planning team.

“I saw my sister running it that day,” said Hannah. “Watching her and the other committee members I thought, I want to do this. I have a passion for my culture and educating others.”

After her first year on the committee, she became increasingly involved in planning the event. This year, Bartol and her fellow co-chair are responsible for making sure the event runs smoothly.

“After three years, I now understand how everything happens — from the budget and donations to coordinating dignitaries,” she said. “It is fun to see how everyone and everything comes together for this huge celebration.”

Hannah is studying health administration. She hopes to use her knowledge to work with members of the Native American community after graduation.

Larissa Schneidewind, a senior from Peck, began working in Native American Programs as a freshman.

As a non-Native student, her duties in the office and as part of the CMU Pow wow planning committee have given Scheidewind the chance to not only understand Native American culture, but also learn how people relate across many cultures – something the family studies student will take with her as she begins her career.

“I’ve become so much more culturally aware of different backgrounds and cultures in general,” she said. “If I travel outside of my local community and see or hear things that are different, I can make the connection to things I’ve learned at CMU.”

This will mark her fourth year as a member of the planning committee and first as co-chair of the event.

“The regalia is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before,” she said. “You get a better sense of the culture and traditions by attending an event like this.”

As a result of her work and leadership on campus, Schneidewind traveled to Missouri in November to help collaborate on a pow wow. She also will travel to a pow wow in Arizona this April to gather new ideas for CMU

Olivia Manitowabi-McCullough, a junior from the Hannahville Indian Community near Escanaba, represented the Hannahville Indian Community as a dancer and princess in the CMU Pow wow before becoming a student.

Dancers spend hours getting dressed in traditional regalia, braiding their hair and making sure headdresses or other pieces are secure before the pow wow begins. As a member of the planning committee for the CMU Pow wow, Manitowabi-McCullough has helped with dancer registration and marketing materials for the event.

“My planning and teamwork skills are areas where I’ve grown from my first year on the committee,” she said.

Early spring pow wows, like the CMU Pow wow, are the beginning of a season of dancing that extends through the summer as Native Americans travel the nation to gather with others and honor their rich cultural heritage.

“Spending time with my family and seeing everyone do this in the summer is always exciting, but having them come to my school for a pow wow is really cool,” said Manitowabi-McCullough.

Manitowabi-McCullough said that she also is excited to see her classmates come and experience the event.

“I hope students take away something new that they didn’t know before and how to be respectful of Native American culture, regalia and traditions,” she said.

Manitowabi-McCullough is studying family studies and sociology. After college, she looks forward to using her education to provide assistance to members of the Native American community in need.

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