Penn State University

Pennsylvania Pow Wow to End an 11-Year Run

For 11 years, John Sanchez has coordinated The New Faces of an Ancient People Traditional American Indian Powwow, which brings dancers, drum groups and pow wow goers from across North America and Canada to a pow wow outside of what’s considered typical Indian Country. But Sanchez told ICTMN that this is the final year for the pow wow.

“This is the 11th year, and the last year, and because I coordinate it on my own, I just don’t have the time to devote to it and keep my day job,” Sanchez said, who squeezed in an interview before heading off to teach a class.

Sanchez, Apache, is a professor in the College of Communications at Penn State University, where he is the only American Indian faculty member.

“Penn State was very receptive to the kinds of things I wanted to bring to this university. I just bought burial plots here,” he told in a previous interview. “I see myself here for the rest of my life.”

Before coming to the university, Sanchez taught American Indian leadership and politics at American University in Washington, D.C. Currently, he teaches media ethics at Penn State and is one of the nation’s leading scholars of the contemporary American Indian experience.

Sanchez said he started the pow wow to give back. “When I was kid, there was a self-esteem problem with a lot of native people,” said Sanchez, who also worked through those same issues as a child. “My professor had a sit-down with me, and he told me that I should be proud to be native person.” He named the pow wow “new faces on an ancient people” after the message his professor left with him. “I can’t believe I had second thoughts [about being prideful],” he said.

The pow wow will take place April 5-6 at the Mount Nittany Middle School in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and Sanchez expects 6,000 people to attend. In fact, all the nearby hotels were sold out, so he was still organizing where to put some of the pow wow dancers just days before the event. “We [still] need to find hotels,” he said.

Maybe this speaks to its success, as it’s referred to as one of the “finest” traditional pow wows outside of Indian Country.

Last year, the event featured about 160 dancers who came from at least 20 different reservations around the country. There were 20 vendors, and storyteller, Dolores Santha, 88, entertained many young children who were in attendance. Santha will be there this year, along with host drum, the Chaska Hotain Singers and Emcee Ron Colombe.

But 13 years ago, when the pow wow was founded, things were very different. Sanchez was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the American Indian Leadership Program at Penn State when he learned that the program had a little bit of money left over, enough to start a “two-hour” pow wow.

John Sanchez (Penn State University)

Penn State University

John Sanchez

“I made some phone calls and was thinking, ‘If they had four or five dancers show up they would be really happy,’” Sanchez said over the phone. But instead, 25 dancers came and there were two drums. “It was a four hour pow wow, and we couldn’t believe it.”

And today, what was once a four-hour pow wow, is now a two-day pow wow.

American Indian vendors from all over Indian Country, such as Cherokee, North Carolina, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, will sell native-made arts and crafts such as American Indian beadwork, quillwork, turquoise and silver at this year’s event. Fry Bread, Indian corn soup and buffalo from the northern tribal nations will be available for purchase. The food prices have remained the same since the pow wow started 11 years ago, in order to keep American Indian food affordable.

Sanchez also said that since it’s a traditional pow wow, and not a contest pow wow, it’s more family orientated. “We have seen the children grow up and get married,” Sanchez said about the pow wow goers who return each year. In fact, his niece was married at one of the most recent pow wows. “She didn’t know all 4,000 people who were there,” he said, explaining how relaxed the atmosphere is and how everyone really has become family.  

Part of their tradition at the pow wow is to remember those who’ve walked on, pay special tribute to their veterans, and honor one woman who has survived breast cancer. “We work to hold on to our language and our traditions,” Sanchez said. This is also the first, and ironically, the last year that they’ve had a female head veteran dancer: Robin Bowen, Sisseton/Wahpeton Dakota Sioux.

The doors will open at 11 a.m. both days and the event will run until 10 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday. The Grand Entry of Dancers begins at noon on Saturday and is held again at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and at noon on Sunday. The pow wow, sponsored jointly by Penn State and the State College Area School District, is open to the public, and runs with the help of 160 volunteers from Pennsylvania, some of whom are Sanchez’s students.

I’m gonna miss it all,” Sanchez said. “There’s just not enough of me.” 


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Pennsylvania Pow Wow to End an 11-Year Run