Grand Valley State University Celebrates Indigenous Culture with Indigi-Fest

The Office of Multicultural Affairs at Grand Valley State University closed March with Indigi Festa 2022 exhibition experience that celebrated Anishinabeck heritage with local speakers and artists.

Indigi-Fest was held in place of the powwow due to the COVID-19 threat.

“Instead of our traditional spring powwow, our Native American Student Association (NASA) decided to hold a cultural exchange on campus in a way that encouraged open dialogue with our presenters. We brought in various university classes to our presentations as part of their program.” Lin Bardwell (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), Native American Student Initiative Coordinator at Grand Valley State University, said. “It lent itself to personal engagement between our local Indigenous community and our campus community.”

Lin Bardwell

Attendees learned about Anhishnabe heritage with presentations on the Indigenous food sovereignty movement, traditional black ash basket making and wood carving.

Both days the afternoon session ended with powwow dancers and drumming. Students received explanations of various powwow dances.

“The insignia we wear come to us in a divine way. They come to us through colors and feathers. They are imposed on us by the spirit. We believe that the creation and manifestation of these insignia is a spiritual thing” , said Punkin. Shananaquet (Potawotami/Ojibwe), a respected jingle dress dancer from Hopkins, Michigan, explained to the students.

“It’s a connection between us and the Creator, between us and our children, between us and our spirits, between us and my spirit name, and between us and our planet,” Shananquet continued.

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Because powwows were generally not accepted by non-natives for much of the 1900s, Shananquet said natives did not have books on how to make their badges. As powwows became more accepted in the 1970s, especially after the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was enacted in 1978, Native people had to rely on spiritual inspiration to create the badges worn by powwow dancers.

Mike Medawis (Ottawa/Potawatomi/Ho-Chunk) drummed and sang on Thursday. He talked about various songs that are given for thanksgiving and honor.

“There’s a responsibility that comes with singing and drumming. I was blessed because I learned to play the drums when I was a kid. There were programs that I went through. So, I’m grateful for that,” Medawis said.

Free samples of native foods, such as wild rice, were offered.

Bardwell says the event was such a success that Indigi-Fest will be returning to campus next year.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded the 2021 Native Media Award Best Column for the Print/Online Category by the Native American Journalists Association. He sits on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]

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