May 20, 2011

Review | Fashion and Adornment at the Nizhoni Days Powwow

Fashion and Adornment at the Nizhoni Days Powwow
Cheyenne Beardsley
Native Adornment 450

I attended the Nizhoni Days Powwow on Sunday, May 5th. It was put on by UNM’s Kiva Club. This powwow is an annual event that is held the Sunday after the Gathering of Nations. It is a nice alternative to the GON if you want or need to spend less money (like I did this year). I have attended for the past three years and it is usually held outside on Johnson Field, but they moved it to the Student Union Building Ballrooms by the time I arrived, because of the bad weather. My goal this year was to keep an eye on the fashion and adornment I saw there. It was neat going into the event with appearance in mind, because although I always love looking at powwow regalia, I paid closer attention to detail this year.

I arrived at the tail end of my favorite dance category — men’s fancy dance. I always loved watching this because of the swift athletic moves and because of the amazing regalia. I was noticing just how much adornment the fancy dancers wear while they dance. I do not know the names of the individual parts of the outfit but there were feathers everywhere as well as headgear. The movement of the regalia while they dance seems to make their moves more dramatic and powerful.

After the fancy-dancers I saw the jingle dress dance. I liked how each dancer had a unique dress design with individual color themes and patterns but they all shared the common theme of the jingles. The dresses were individualized with patterns of plaid, purple and rainbow colors among others. I also noticed that most of them wore small round mirrors on the back of their dresses.

One of my favorite aspects of observing the clothing and regalia was seeing traditional dress on the little toddlers. I saw several children, from probably a year and up, completely decked out in traditional or powwow wear. I would imagine it would be expensive to maintain such elaborate adornment for constantly growing children but I think that points to the importance and significance of it.

I also enjoyed seeing the contemporary Native clothing. I was intrigued by some print T-shirts in the corner. I did not realize until later that it was Virgil Ortiz’ clothing line and that I saw him there as well! Some people, who were not wearing traditional clothing, were wearing some of Virgil’s stuff. I saw a girl with a huge purse that said “Made in Native America”. It struck me that wearing or carrying things like that can be a political statement. Similarly, wearing traditional clothes outside of traditional settings can be a political statement because it is a constant expression of cultural pride and a resistance to hegemony.

Being at the powwow also made me consider traditional clothing as a signal of inclusion and cultural knowledge. I have been attending powwows every now and then since I was about 5. I love to dance and at one point in my life I wanted to learn how to do women’s powwow dancing, but as I have grown older I have realized that not growing up in my tribal community and the whiteness of my skin makes me feel like a fake sometimes. I would not feel comfortable wearing traditional clothing in public at this point in my life even though my aunt offered for me to wear her Pawnee dress for graduation. Reflecting on this reminded me that wearing traditional clothing or powwow regalia signals cultural knowledge and cultural representation, and that issues of appropriation can be delicate and complex.