Native Heritage Month Celebrates and Preserves Indigenous Culture and History

Becky Archibald, pictured on the right, at 2017 Clark College Pow-Wow. Photo credit: David Lopez Becky Archibald, pictured on the right, at 2017 Clark College Pow-Wow. Photo credit: David Lopez

Theresa Matthiesen – Online Managing Editor

November is Native American Indian Heritage month, a celebration of indigenous cultures and a chance for people to learn about native foods, traditions and stories that have shaped the cultures we see today. Locally, there are a number of events throughout the upcoming to celebrate heritage month.   

At a Nov. 2 pow wow, the Ke Kukui Foundation, performed traditional dances from the Pacific Islands. Indigenous Interwoven evenings with the Indigenous Culture Club are about sharing culture, food and family. Club meetings are held weekly on Wednesday evenings.

Channa Smith, a former adviser for the Indigenous Culture Club and the first recipient of the Dreamcatcher Scholarships, encourages everyone to come to the pow wows. Newcomers will be given a flier titled ‘Pow wow 101’ to help them understand pow wow etiquette.

“Don’t be shy,” Smith said with a warm smile. “We love to share.”  

At the pow wow there was dancing, food and vendors selling handmade items. All proceeds from the table rentals went to the Dreamcatcher Scholarship.

Louis Kamaroff who dances a northern style of men’s traditional and contemporary style, explained some of the movements in the dance. “They’re more of a hunting dance,” Kamaroff said. “They’re looking for tracks, their game.” He describes the dance as always looking around at the ground.

Whereas a Grass dancer will have higher steps and look like they are stepping on high grass and pushing it to the ground. “It doesn’t matter if it’s my category, men’s traditional or women’s jingle,” Kamaroff said. “There’s a story behind it, there’s stories everywhere.”  

Historically, grass dancers were the first ones to dance, preparing areas for others to use and so were held in high regard. They were called upon for powwows, ceremonies and campgrounds, Kamaroff said.

Channa Smith says her favorite powwow was when someone brought inflatable sumo suits. "It was funny because one of them was a ballerina outfit," she said. "They had these two dancers and they did a dance-off wearing the sumo-suits." Photo Credit: David Lopez

Channa Smith says her favorite powwow was when someone brought inflatable sumo suits. “It was funny because one of them was a ballerina outfit,” she said. “They had these two dancers and they did a dance-off wearing the sumo-suits.”
Photo Credit: David Lopez

Smith brings her family and encourages any and all students to stop in, enjoy a meal and get to know each other. She says too much of media depicts individualism. “The me, myself and I, oh look at my fancy material thing that elevates my status,” Smith said. “It’s about balance.” Instead she teaches her kids about the importance of supporting each other in their endeavors. “Being close with family, with friends,” Smith said. “Louis is great, he brings his sense of humor.”

Experiencing, sharing and educating are Smith’s focus for the Indigenous American Students Club. Formerly the Native American Culture Club, the club recently expanded to Pacific Islanders.

Smith says she’s interested in helping all indigenous people preserve their cultural history.  

It’s really about standing together,” Smith said. “Looking at everything as a circle, it’s all interconnected. In order for academics to succeed we also need to have our cultural and spiritual needs taken care of.”

Dreamcatcher Scholarship.

Smith was the first ever recipient of the Dreamcatcher Scholarship, two years ago. She said she became introspective upon receiving it and that was not something she expected.

The scholarship is designed to help current and future students who identify as Native American Indian, Alaska Native, Hawai’ian Native or otherwise indigenous to the Americas. The Dreamcatcher Scholarship will be awarded from the fund in the name of Becky Archibald and Anna Schmasow, for their endless commitment advocating the education for the Seventh Generation.

To be considered for the Dreamcatcher Scholarship, an applicant must be a current student or plan to be a student at Clark College for at least five credits and be a student of Native American, Indian, Alaska Native, Hawai’ian Native or indigenous background.

“I felt deeply honored by it,” Smith said. “I’ve been to those events, I’ve seen those runways, I’ve been to those powwows and the spaces and the times and energies where those donations were made. So to me it was intimate, I guess, with how I thought about how those funds came to me and people, just out of the kindness of their hearts gave. It wasn’t a tax write off.”

Native Americans who are not registered with a tribe, llike Smith, do not have the same resources available to them as registered tribal members.

Channa Smith shared that outfits are called regalia, not costumes. Costumes are pretending to be something, regalia is sacred. Photo credit: David Lopez

Channa Smith shared that outfits are called regalia, not costumes. Costumes are pretending to be something, regalia is sacred.
Photo credit: David Lopez

“It was really nice to be validated,” Smith said. “Now that I’ve processed it for a long time, I kind of enjoy not being enrolled [with a tribe] because I feel like I can set that example that says, I don’t need that piece of paper.”

She feels people don’t feel like they have a right to their heritage if they’re not registered. “On the other end of the spectrum, you see a lot of people that only enroll for monetary gain,” Smith said. “Their hearts are not in it to become culturally aware.”

Smith said the culturally aware, the traditional people don’t think about what the tribe is going to provide for them, they look for ways to give to their community, go to events and help their elders.

To receive an application packet for the scholarship, visit the Diversity Center at Gaiser Hall room 214 or on the Scholarship wall in Gaiser Hall. The application is due to the Diversity Center by midnight on March 3 2019

Native Runway:

A Celebration of Regalia, Culture and Song

Saturday, November 17, 2018 11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Join us for the annual observance of Native American Indian Heritage Month. Families are invited to celebrate and learn more about native cultures with hands-on crafts and activities for kids. A native craft holiday marketplace, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., will also feature Native American artists and craftspeople, sponsored by Native Vendors United and Sacred Waters Fish Company. The Water Resources Education Center is located at 4600 SE Columbia Way. Please note: Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Call 360-487-7111 or visit www.cityofvancouver.us/watercenter for more details.

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