Native American dancers perform at Dewberry Hall in the Johnson Center on Wednesday. Photo by Antonieta Rico

As I walked into Dewberry Hall on Wednesday, my heart started pounding. The drums were beating so thunderously I felt the vibrations all over my body. Only the powerful chanting could be heard over the music and, although loud, it sent a spiritual calm over me.

Where was I?

In honor of American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, the American Indian/Alaskan Native Student Association hosted its eighth Annual Veteran’s Powwow. A central social event celebrating indigenous culture by combining dance, music, food, art and fashion, the powwow embodied the Native American culture perfectly and set certain stereotypes to rest.

“Many people think that all Native Americans are the same. That’s not the case. We are from many different nations,” said Nicholas Birdshead, the head male dancer from the Crow/Lakota tribe. “Some people didn’t know that we still existed while others thought that we couldn’t even drive.”
According to Birdshead, the event was to educate George Mason University students about the Native American culture. “We are educators, not entertainers,” Birdshead said.

“Many people think that we worship animals and that is not the case. We respect the animals but we worship God,” said Manuel Rodriguez, arena director from the Comanche and Cheyenne tribe. “We are a culture like anyone else. We are spiritual people, not savages. We are just regular human beings.”

One of the most sensational moments of the event came when Junior Head Dancer Alexander Fire Walker of the Cherokee tribe burnt out a goblet of fire with his bare foot.

“I was deeply impressed when I saw him. I had no idea that this event was going on but just seeing the dances and the costumes made me stay and watch more,” said senior finance major Oko Khurelbaatar.

The event amazed other students as well.

“This is pretty cool. It’s the first time I have attended a Native American powwow,” said Joe Gugliuzza, a freshman who is undeclared.

Some students joined in on the fun by holding hands with strangers and dancing in a large circle.
“It’s different but I like it!” said freshman business major Katherine Boward.

Many Native Americans were dressed in the traditional attire. The colorful clothing, feathers and jewelry are significant in representing their heritage.

Every attendee was given an etiquette guide which advised students against calling the clothing a “costume” or taking photos without permission.

Over 500 attendees visited the event through the day. For organizers Meg Nicholas and T Cater, the event was a success.

“This event really signified the spirit of generosity of the Native American culture,” said Carter, a Mason alumnus with a masters degree in history, “It showed that Native Americans really are just generous and giving people.”