At least 100 dancers and 1,500 spectators braved the frigid northern Utah weather to attend the student-run 42nd Annual “Echoing Traditional Ways” Utah State University Powwow, in Logan, on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 27-28. Held in the university’s spacious Nelson Fieldhouse, the long-running pow wow not only provided a showcase for the great dancers of Utah and Idaho, but also as a venue to educate and bring diversity to the predominantly white Mormon population of the region.
Maei Nakashima, a third year USU agriculture student from Japan, enjoyed her first pow wow in the arms of her doting and “maybe” boyfriend, and fellow student Cody Nield. “It is awesome,” Nakashima said while giggling uncontrollably. “I have never seen Native Americans, and I have never seen this kind of special dance.” The awestruck student said she likes Navajo culture best. This, after making friends with a gregarious Diné woman who was sitting in front of her, kindly answering all her questions about pow wows and Natives in general.
The pow wow held special importance to Diné jingle dress dancer Vanessa Eriacho. The 18-year-old from Salt Lake City will graduate high school later this spring and attend USU in the fall. “I’m excited and a little nervous at the same time,” the shy dancer said. Eriacho is very close to her family, and in particular, her older brother who dances chicken. “I’m worried because it’s an hour away from my family, and I will be on my own,” she said while contemplating what will soon come to pass.
One of the standout dancers, Derald Julianto, Shoshone-Paiute, came all the way from the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada. The golden-age northern traditional dancer with long flowing light gray hair said he comes to this pow wow every year despite the hundreds of miles he has to drive to get here. “I think I like it because there are a lot of people here and a lot of friends and relatives; and it’s one of the pow wows we hit every year, the first of the year before we hit the rest,” Julianto said.
Happy to be dancing no matter what, Julianto wished the event’s speaker system was a little better because dancers often had trouble hearing the songs at one end of the field house and everybody’s ears suffered during the countless high-pitched feedbacks throughout the pow wow. However, he cut the organizers some slack because they are students and his overall experience was excellent.
Alicia Olea, the pow wow’s organizer and Cahuilla member from Southern California, was the tip of the spear during the busy pow wow. She’s a student at the university, and one of the 15 or so active members in the Native American Student Council. Olea has been part of the pow wow since 2009.
“This is all student run and we go out and work for every donation,” she said while taking a short break from doing 10 different things at once. She was recently disheartened when her group gave a presentation to an elementary school and learned they thought American Indians no longer existed. “That’s why we do this,” Olea said. “This is for the community to know there still is diversity in the valley and in Utah.”