ASU West's Heritage Festival celebrates Native American culture

The festival will include a pow wow, Native American vendors and food

Native American culture is rich with tradition and camaraderie — and students can get a taste of it at ASU’s Native American Heritage Festival.

The free event will be held on Nov. 10 on the Fletcher Library Lawn on the West campus and will feature a pow wow, Native American vendors and, new to this year’s event, artist demonstrations. Native American pow wow dancers will enter with a gourd dance at the start of the event at 11 a.m., and veterans will be honored with a grand entry at 7 p.m. as part of the Veterans Day Pow Wow tradition.

Bobbi Magdaleno, the executive director of government and community engagement at ASU, said students can expect a “very rich experience” at the festival.

Magdaleno said the festival draws a great crowd every year, from students to neighbors to people who are simply driving by and want to see the source of bright colors and the congregation of spectators.

“They’ve probably never seen a pow wow before, so they have an opportunity to learn and to celebrate something that they’ve never seen,” she said.

Magdaleno said the 11-hour event is a moving and uplifting event celebrating Native traditions and culture and “a great reflection of ASU’s charter.”

This year the festival has added an art demonstration area to the event, which Magdaleno said demonstrates the pride that Native Americans take in their craft and traditions that have been passed down for many generations. 

They have to be Indigenous artists,” Magdaleno said, “and we’re going to highlight at least four artists that day who are there demonstrating their craft … so we can actually see them in action.”

Jacob Meders, an assistant professor at the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies is also a member of the planning committee for the Native American Heritage Festival.

Meders said the event is a time for students and the community to learn about the culture of Native Americans. 

“There’s a lot of different tribes and nations that are represented at the pow wow, so it’s not just a singular experience to one indigenous group,” he said.

Meders said despite the dark history of how Native Americans have been treated in America, it’s important for events like this one to be held on Native American land.

"(It's) really about celebrating that we’re still here, we’re still thriving, we’re still part of the community and that we still ultimately belong to this land,” he said.

Meders said that among all the mistreatment and misunderstanding of Native American culture, from derogatory sports mascots to the widely misunderstood fact that Native Americans are a sovereign people, a pow wow is a good place to start showing non-Native American people the culture that the education system tells them so little about.

“I think the pow wow is a good stepping stone to have a safe and open environment, one that’s about good thoughts and good actions and good, positive energy,” he said.

Randall "RJ" Morin, a senior studying music education, head male dancer at the pow wow and Mr. Indian ASU 2018-19, said that events like the Native American Heritage Festival are important to educate people on a different culture from their own.

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“It’s going to open up people’s eyes to another culture, another identity of a certain kind of people,” he said.

He said he’s extremely excited to dance in the pow wow as he's been dancing since he could walk. Morin said that beyond just being a hobby, dancing is a way of life for Native American people — it’s as essential to their culture as going to church is for Christians.

“It’s what keeps our culture alive,” Morin said.

He said the audience should pay attention to the beadwork worn by the dancers since each individual bead has a meaning, and each accessory worn has a significance beyond the noise it makes.

Morin said ASU is a far more inclusive environment to Native Americans than his old university in North Dakota was, and events like the Heritage Festival make him feel more welcomed and at home in Arizona.

“Coming from that sense of being so secluded from my university to now being kind of encased in it, is really nice,” he said. “It makes (me) feel more at home, and I’m 1,700 miles away.”


Reach the reporter at japere38@asu.edu or follow @jsphprzz on Twitter.

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