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‘We are not people of the past’

October 5, 2023

‘We are not people of the past’

October 5, 2023

Every part of preparing for the 25th annual Harvard Powwow was personal for Kabl Wilkerson. [Kabl is a Ph.D. candidate in history and a Graduate Student Affiliate at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES).]

The third year Ph.D. candidate and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation learned what it meant to be Native from their grandmother Mary Ruth, an artist who helped raise them. After her death a year ago, Wilkerson spent their spare time crafting regalia and learning to dance the men’s woodlands style at powwows to honor her memory.

“She was somebody who fought really hard for us to be Potawatomi. She was proud of who she was and helped teach me who I was, and for that I miss her every day,” Wilkerson said.

Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a hiatus, the Powwow returned to campus last Saturday to allow students like Wilkerson to honor their families, connect with other Indigenous communities, and reconnect with their roots. Organizers say the event reflects the University’s continued responsibility to and support of Native communities, as dictated by the Harvard Charter of 1650.

“Harvard Powwow is an important moment for our community, because it allows our Native folks to share their pride and culture, brings together the native community in our area, and reminds the larger Harvard community of our existence,” said Jordan Clark, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah and assistant director of the Harvard University Native American Program.

“It pulls people’s thoughts from the past into the present and allows our students to showcase what makes us special and unique,” he said. “It is an honor to host this event and look forward to stewarding this event into the future.”

Hosted at the McCurdy Outdoor Track, the powwow welcomed hundreds of attendees from Harvard and neighboring Native communities. Held on Orange Shirt Day, the Powwow honored survivors and victims of residential schools throughout Canada and the U.S., which sought to separate Native children from their families and forcibly assimilate them.

Chris Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Arena Director Jonathan Perry of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah emceed the daylong celebration that included performances led by head lady dancer Kendra Eaglestar of the Jemez Pueblo and Atsa Zah of the Narragansett, with the Iron River Singers serving as the host drum.