Every year the Native American students of Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon join together to host a one-day pow wow to celebrate their education and the support given to them by their families, friends, tribes and school faculty.
On December 1, over 1,500 guests and participants came for the annual event touted to be one of the largest pow wows held in a community college in the Northwest. Participants and spectators even traveled from as far away as South Dakota to attend this spectacular event.
“It has gotten to be a fairly popular pow wow,” said James Florendo, member of the Wasco Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and a faculty member and coordinator of the Native American Student Program.
“It is different. Ours is a one-day pow. We can’t afford more days. We are supporting the students and giving their parents a chance to see their kids in school,” he said, adding, “This is a give-away pow wow, instead of a contest or tribal pow wow.”
Florendo and Lane view the success of the intertribal pow wow according to the growth in the number of Native students enrolled in the college and not just on the number of people who come to the annual free event organized by the Native American Student Association.
Today, there are over 650 self-identified Native students that attend Lane. In 1991, around the time the annual pow wows were started, there were only 50 Native students.
Florendo said the annual pow wow, the Lane Longhouse, the summer program and his own involvement in the college as a point person for Native students have all been contributing factors to this growth in enrollment.
"Community colleges," he said, "do not typically have a person in charge of Native student affairs. Even the University of Oregon that collaborates with Lane on a summer program does not have a coordinator focused on Native students."
"The support given by Lane to Native students has given families the comfort and trust that they are sending their children to an institution that helps students make a smooth transition to college"
Lane’s Native American Program includes academic, personal and career counseling, scholarship and financial aid information and liaison between students and tribal education programs. The college also offers activities for students to learn about Native American culture, values, and traditions.
The proper venue for Native education came a few years ago in the form of a longhouse. Classes held at the longhouse include Native American Studies, American Indian Language, Ethnic Studies, and other studies on culture. According to Florendo, there are about half a dozen Native American classes.
The student association on Lane's website says the pow wows have facilitated an increase in Native Americans students attending Lane. “This increase in Native American students has helped to produce community support for the longhouse project.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education, a Washington D.C.-based newspaper, called the longhouse, inaugurated in late 2010, an “unusual campus project” and asked why Lane would even build one.
But citing other reports, it said it was justified by Lane’s dedication to helping Native students. The paper said Lane had three times as many Native American students as the University of Oregon and one of the largest Native American populations among any community college.
Florendo said he believes that the College and the recent pow wow had representation from about 80 different tribes. “This is a celebration for the Native community. Many folks and families come to be with the students.”
The pow wow was held in the gymnasium and started with grand entries at 1 p.m., with another one at 7 p.m. “We had 22 drums this year and over 100 dancers and participants,” Florendo said.
“Everything is free. Dinner is free for all participants,” he said, noting attendees received free t-shirts, elders received a basket with mugs and coffee, and children were given books and toys. All of which were donated.
“That is what makes our pow wow unique. Everybody walks away with something,” said Florendo. “You come to our pow wow to dance, to drum and have a good time.”