Listed on the University of Montana’s class schedule with English, philosophy and algebra is one you’re unlikely to find on many university course lists.
It’s called the “Pow Wow Seminar,” and its eight students appear to be all business, except when teasing one class member that he is in it for an easy “A” and when he explains that he really doesn’t need the easy “A.”
Easy grade or not, most had notebooks on their laps and pens in hand on a recent Thursday afternoon. Inside a windowless conference room with no desks, they discussed an event that will bring thousands of people to an arena.
“You want to create an image for your reader,” Barbara Henderson, a Native American studies adviser and the course instructor, said as the students took notes on the do’s and don’ts of writing to potential donors.
The scene could have passed for a grant-writing workshop, though it was just one session on how to make an intertribal celebration happen.
During the fall, the homework assignments focus on the main event. From now until the semester ends in mid-December, the class will assist Kyi-Yo, the school’s Native American club, in meeting its $60,000 budget. One of the first items on the agenda is raising $5,000 to pay for a host drum group.
Come powwow time, those who opt to take the seminar again in the spring are likely get an in-depth look at the culture of powwows and a crash course in the last-minute pressures of event planning.
“The class was really helpful during the celebration” last year, said Denise Young Running Crane-Grant, UM’s powwow program adviser. “They all pitched in and helped out.”
At state universities, tribal colleges and Ivy League schools around the country, students host annual powwows that generally take place in the spring on tarp-covered basketball courts in giant arenas.
A student group, such as Kyi-Yo, often runs the events. Montana State University, about 200 miles southeast of Missoula in Bozeman, also offers hands-on courses in powwow planning.
Jim Burns, an adviser to more than 300 American Indian students, teaches the MSU class. After learning about UM’s powwow seminar, he introduced it to his school’s curriculum last spring. Some 30 students took it during its first semester, he said.
“It’s a very legitimate course because it supports one of the largest cultural events on campus,” he said.
The two schools estimate that about 4,000 people pour into their campus arenas for the weekend events. Dancers and singers fill their basketball teams’ home courts. Spectators line the edges.
“One weekend two days you can put in 30 hours easy,” Allen Fisher, an MSU junior, said about working on his school powwow. “To actually be getting credit for it in a class, it helps so much.”
Fisher, who’s from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana, is president of the American Indian Council, which plans MSU’s powwows. A double major in education and history, he took the class for three credits last spring, he said. This fall, he’s taking it for one credit.
With or without the class, he’d be working on marketing, fundraising and publicity for the council’s powwow, he said.
So why not earn academic credit for it?
“They’re putting all this work in, why not make it worth while and give them some credit?” Burns said.
Asked how much work goes into running a powwow, Young Running Crane-Grant widened her eyes, smiled, then laughed, indicating an obvious answer.
“When it gets time to go, it’s like, we forgot this or we forgot that,” she said. “There’s always something.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com