MSU American Indian students form heart of annual powwow
Thu, 04/20/2017 - 12:08pm admin
By Marshall Swearingen / MSU News Service
Amid taking exams, readying for summer internships and planning future careers, American Indian students at Montana State University are at the heart of the 42nd annual American Indian Council Powwow. The powwow, on April 14-15, filled MSU’s fieldhouse with drums, ceremony and colorful dress.
“To us, the powwow is about bringing our culture to life and sharing it with other people,” said Ty Show, a senior majoring in industrial engineering in MSU’s College of Engineering.
As president of MSU’s American Indian Council, Show is one of the lead organizers of the powwow, which costs the campus organization roughly $40,000 to host. Each year the AIC raises that money through food sales and other fundraisers throughout the year. “I made that a priority for us, so we could keep the admission free to the public,” Show said.
For Show, a member of the Blackfeet tribe who grew up in Browning, the powwow at MSU is a chance to connect with his family and with tradition.
“I grew up immersed in my culture,” he said. “I’ve found it important that we provide that home-away-from-home feeling to Native students (during the powwow),” he said.
Show is also a member of the MSU chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and coordinating the event has put his industrial engineering skills to work, he said. “I used some project management techniques to keep us on track.”
Preceding the powwow on Friday was a ceremony to raise funds and attention for the proposed American Indian Student Center at MSU. Civil engineering major Dawson Demontiney, a junior who grew up on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation near Havre, took a lead role in organizing the ceremony as founder of the Native American Development Group, an MSU student organization.
Through contributions from campus offices, Demontiney raised more than $2,800 for the event in hopes that some of the hundreds of people who come from around the state for the powwow will join in the ceremony. MSU President Waded Cruzado and members of the MSU Council of Elders attended the event, which began with a ceremony at the site of the proposed building, across from the College of Engineering’s Roberts Hall and then moved into the SUB Ballroom for a free lunch and presentations.
“I want to see ground broken, see the foundation poured and see this building going up,” said Demontiney, who plans to work in construction management after he graduates as a way to improve life on Indian reservations. “I’m taking the stuff I’ve learned in school and putting it into action.”
When the powwow began Friday evening with a grand entry, Trisheena Kills Pretty Enemy, a senior majoring in microbiology in MSU’s College of Letters and Science and vice president of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, led the hundreds of other dancers as they circle the arena. She looks ahead to a 10-week, paid summer internship at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Kills Pretty Enemy, a member of the Crow Tribe who grew up in Pryor, began dancing at age seven. Later, her family made her an elk-tooth dress, a traditional outfit worn during Crow-style dance. “Dancing has always been a big passion for me,” she said.
Kills Pretty Enemy said that being voted head woman dancer by the American Indian Council is an opportunity to honor her family and her culture.
According to Kills Pretty Enemy, because she has faced the death of loved ones and other personal challenges during her time at MSU, her role at powwow is also a chance to honor the support she’s received. This aid came from the EMPower program housed in MSU’s College of Engineering, the McNair Scholars Program and TRiO Student Support Services. She said she has also been supported by Seth Walk, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, in whose lab she studies transmission of bacterial disease as part of a Montana INBRE research collaboration.
Powwow “is a chance to honor what’s kept me going. It’s meaningful,” she said.
At the powwow, Show performed a “giveaway” ceremony to honor three of his instructors in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering: professor Durward Sobek and assistant professors David Claudio and Bill Schell. After giving each a Pendleton blanket, Show circled the arena alongside them in an honor dance, with his family and other faculty joining in.
“They’ve showed that they care about my success and about me working toward my dreams,” Show said. “It means a lot to me to see someone step up and take on that role.”
There were 650 American Indian students enrolled at MSU in 2016, and the American Indian Council Powwow is one of the largest in Montana.