Carrying the legacy:
Arizona State University Powwow
By: Taylor Notah
Tribal affiliation: Navajo
For the 32nd year in a row, the Annual ASU Powwow returned this spring where Native dancers and singing groups across North America showcased performances and competitions. Attracting an estimated 10,000 visitors per year, the popular Tempe gathering was held at the ASU Band Practice Field from March 30 through April 1.
Consecutively running since 1986, the ASU Powwow is one of the longest-standing university powwows in the country. At its core are devoted Sun Devil alumni, staff and students who help run the event. For main coordinators and married Sun Devils Tahnee and Darnell Baker, the powwow is not only part of their identity, but also upholds a family legacy.
“My father was an ASU alumni and a coordinator,” said Tahnee Baker (San Carlos Apache, Yavapai Apache, Navajo), a doctoral student in ASU’s School of Social Work. “The ASU Powwow has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.”
Passionately jingle-dress dancing most of her life, Tahnee’s love of dancing is also shared by her husband Darnell (Three Affiliated Tribes, ASU graduate in American Indian Studies), who has been a grass dancer since the age of five.
Powwows also became an area of interest for Tahnee’s parents where her father Lee Williams joined the ASU Powwow committee in its fifth year of running and served as coordinator until his passing in 2013.
“He played a major role in getting it to where it is today so it’s important to me in that respect,” Tahnee said. “After he passed away, the committee members, community, my own family looked to me to see if I would continue it, and I did.”
Following in Williams’ footsteps for the past five years, the Bakers’ tasks involve preparations that begin months beforehand. Items on their checklist include gathering head staff and host drums, recruiting new volunteers, securing the abundance of tents, sound equipment, bleachers, food, and, most importantly, the comfort and safety of attendees. The backbone of the event are the ASU alumni, Tahnee says.
“It’s a lot of work, but I wouldn’t give it up,” Tahnee said. “It’s part of my identity as far as growing up, seeing my father being so involved, eventually going to ASU myself and now taking it over. It’s also part of our ASU Powwow family. I attribute a lot of our success to them.”
The event also signifies the representation of both the university’s diverse student population and the city’s Native presence as a whole, Tahnee says.
“We want to try to solidify the Native presence and show that this is here, this is for you,” Tahnee said. “Within the city and even on campus, there is a place for us as Indian people as well.”