ason Packineau (from left), Sarah Sadlier, and Shelly Lowe.

The Harvard University Native American Program holds its annual powwow to celebrate Native American culture, organized by Jason Packineau (from left), Sarah Sadlier, and Shelly Lowe.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Celebrating Native American culture

4 min read

Harvard Powwow will feature traditional dancers, singers, and drummers, food vendors, and arts and crafts

As an undergraduate at Stanford, Sarah Sadlier always looked forward to the Stanford Powwow, an annual event celebrating Native American peoples and cultures that brings 30,000 attendees to the California campus.

Now at Harvard and pursuing a Ph.D. in the History Department specializing in Native American history, Sadlier is looking forward to the Harvard Powwow, which commemorates the original tribal nations that populated New England 12,000 years ago. It will be held Saturday afternoon on Lesley University’s Brattle Lawn.

“The powwow here is much more intimate,” said Sadlier, a Miniconjou Lakota who grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and one of the event’s co-chairs. “It draws 500, 600 people.

“But here or there, I always look forward to the powwow because it’s the one time in which we come together as a community to share our traditions and cultures,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity for non-indigenous individuals to educate themselves about the original peoples of this land.”

California is home to nearly 363,000 Native Americans, which makes it the state with the largest native population in the country. With 18,850 Native Americans, Massachusetts has a smaller native population, but the commonwealth is the ancestral land of the Massachusett tribe.

Featuring traditional dancers, singers and drummers from tribes across New England, food vendors and arts and craft sellers, the 24th annual powwow is sponsored by Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP). This year, the powwow has a special meaning for the Native American community at Harvard, said Sadlier.

For the first time in its 400 years, the University has hired four professors in Native American Studies: Philip Deloria and Tiya Miles in the History Department, Joe Gone in the Anthropology Department and the Faculty of Medicine, and Shawon Kinew in the Department of History of Art and Architecture.

Native American advocates saw the 2018 hiring of Deloria, Harvard’s first tenured professor of Native American history, and that of the other three professors as a recognition of the University’s obligations to Native American communities. The Harvard Charter of 1650 stipulated the College’s commitment to “educate the English and Indian youth of this country.” The land on which Harvard sits is the traditional homeland of the Massachusett people.

“In the short time that I’ve been here, it’s been amazing to see the growth of the Native American community at Harvard,” said Sadlier, who came to Harvard in the fall of 2017. “When I first arrived here, there were no Native American faculty. Now, we have four. We’re also seeing more student participation at the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

The first powwow at Harvard was held in 1995 to raise the visibility of the small Native American student community, help them connect with New England’s original tribal nations, and remind them of home. Now, powwow organizers would also liketo raise awareness about the resilience of indigenous peoples and provide a chance for non-indigenous people to appreciate and celebrate Native American culture.

“The Harvard powwow provides a space for our community to gather, celebrate, and make Harvard ‘indigenous,’” said Jason Packineau, community coordinator at HUNAP. “For our students, representing different Schools at Harvard and also identifying with different traditions, the powwow is this unifying moment where they feel connected and validated, to something that is both larger and familiar.”

The powwow will be Saturday from 1 to 5:30 p.m. at 99 Brattle St. The Grand Entry of dancers will take place at 1 p.m. Admission is free.