Powwows keeping traditions alive

ARLINGTON -- Shani Black Hawk of Fort Worth grew up dancing in powwows.

When she had children, she knew sharing that culture would be important.

"We are a tiny group," Black Hawk said. "The only way to keep our traditions alive is to pass them on to our children."

The family danced and celebrated Saturday at the 17th annual powwow at the University of Texas at Arlington, which hosts the second-largest such gathering in the region. (The largest is in Grand Prairie).

American Indians account for a small sliver of the North Texas population: roughly 0.6 percent in Fort Worth and 0.7 percent in Arlington.

That makes powwows even more important, many say.

"A lot of people don't even know there are Indians in the area or don't understand powwows" said Albert Old Crow, the master of ceremonies and host of Beyond Bows and Arrows, a Texas radio show devoted to the American Indian community. "This is an opportunity to get the word out."

A powwow is a gathering of American Indians who dance, sing, play drums, socialize and honor their culture.

Mica Johnson, president of the Native American Student Association at UTA, which organized the all-day event, says she attended her first powwow while in the womb.

"This is a representation of our culture and our heritage," Johnson said. "As soon as kids can walk, they're involved."

Just 5 years old, Maezy Black Hawk has already danced in several powwows. But Saturday marked her first time as head girl, a dancer who helps lead others.

Maezy spent the week asking her parents: "When is the powwow? Where is my dress? Is my shawl ready?"

Shani Black Hawk gave her daughter a necklace and hair clip with eagle feathers, which can be legally owned only by American Indians. "We'll pass these things on to the next generation," said Black Hawk, whose husband, Dory Black Hawk, is a UTA electrical engineering student. "They're very special to us, and we hope, to our children."

Dancers began Saturday's powwow with a traditional gourd dance, which originated with the Kiowa tribe. According to tradition, a young man was separated from his tribe. Hungry and tired after searching for many days, he heard unusual singing from the other side of a hill. When he investigated, he found a lone wolf singing and dancing on its hind legs. The wolf told him to take the song and dance back to his people.

At the end of each gourd dance, the performers howl in honor of the wolf.

Les Riding-In, an adviser to the 40-member Native American Student Association, said the American Indian population in North Texas is large and thriving. But the vastness of the region can make it difficult to find and connect with others.

"It's important for our community to come together," said Riding-In, who is an academic adviser in UTA's Honors College.

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw