Activities throughout the year culminate in Saturdays powwow at Northern
By Tim Leeds
Activities of the year for one of Montana State University-Northern's clubs culminate in a popular annual event Saturday.
The event is the 27th annual Sweetgrass Society powwow in Northern's gymnasium. Most of the club's activities over the year raise money for the powwow, with more fund raising going on for the society's scholarships.
Sweetgrass Society president Clint Brown said 30 or more Native American students regularly participate in the club's activities, but probably every Native American student on campus stops in at club meetings at least twice a year, as time and schedules allow.
Members say the society is a tremendous asset for them and for the university.
Bob New Breast, a water quality major at Northern, said he joined the society to participate in traditional Native American cultural activities at the university. But it does more. The powwow lets non-Native American students and members of the community see what the traditions are like.
"I'd say if they're willing to find out about Native American culture, present day they could come in (to the powwow)," he said.
Joining the society and participating in the powwow are good ways for Native Americans who didn't grow up with their culture to learn about it, New Breast said.
Summer Stricker has been in the Sweetgrass Society for three years and said another benefit of the powwow and the society is to recruit new students to Northern.
"A lot of Native American high school students attend (the powwow,)" she said. "They see we have activities for Native American students and that recruits some to the college."
P.J. Morning, a freshman in the computer information systems program at Northern, said being in the society gives her things to do outside of class.
"It gets me out of the dorms," she said. " It keeps me active so I can do my homework."
Most of the club's activities are fund-raisers used to pay for the powwow and for scholarships. Just about every week, club members sell Indian tacos or some other food item in the club's meeting room in Cowan Hall.
It's gotten a little tougher to support the club's activities, adviser Elaine Healy-Berger said. The food sales are limited to one a week, when they used to occur more often. Also, the Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern and the university's Cultural Diversity Committee were only able to give the club half the support they usually give, she said.
The club has been going into the community looking for donations to support its activities this year. The club has had pretty good success looking for help, and was still out this week soliciting donations, Brown said.
The Sweetgrass Society was formed 27 years ago at Northern, to support Native American culture. Brown said sweetgrass is traditionally used in prayers and religious ceremonies, where it is burned for spiritual purification.
"It's very sacred or lucky to have a name like that," he said.
The society has representatives from a variety of tribes. Brown said members of five of Montana's six reservations are in the society, and it has several members from outside Montana this year.
He said the theme for this year's powwow, "Uniting Cultures through Education," is very fitting for the society and for Northern because of the diversity of tribes at the university and at the powwow.
People from Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap, Lodge Pole and Browning are helping society members run the powwow Saturday.
Brown said he hopes to continue growing the society and its events. This year the Sweetgrass Society hoped to combine efforts with Stone Child Community College at Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap Community College to put on the powwow, possibly turning it into a two- or three-day event. That plan fell through, but Brown said he hopes to try again next year.
The powwow is already a major effort for the society. Dancers numbering in the hundreds usually attend, representing most tribes and colleges in the state. The Sweetgrass Society received calls and e-mails from as far away as Washington, D.C., asking about this year's powwow.
But the powwow isn't the only effort of the society. The fund raising for the Sweetgrass Society's scholarships is also a major project. Brown said if the club can raise enough beyond its scholarship needs, he hopes the society can get something for its members, like club jackets.