The Wildcat Powwow: A Native Tradition at the University of ArizonaPosted on: August 23, 2011 in People & Places
“Usually, Native clubs on campus don’t make a big spectacle. We do a lot of things under the radar.” Nicole Scott confides this as she watches dozens of Native American dancers in elaborately decorated, colorful regalia line up for the Grand Entry procession. It’s the official opening of the 2011 Wildcat Powwow, which is nothing if not a big spectacle.
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Scott, a senior majoring in Retail and Consumer Science, is president of the Wildcat Powwow Society. A Navajo from Leupp, Arizona, she and nine other Native students worked all year to organize the event and raise $18,000 to make this moment a reality.
There are tears in her eyes as the crowd of students, faculty, staff, friends, family members and dancers from across North America gather on Bear Down field. “I can’t believe how many people came! I never imagined there would be so many!”
Creating an event to showcase the beauty of Native American culture gives Native students a sense of belonging on campus, says Amanda Tachine, who was director of Native American Student Affairs last year. She says it adds to the rich diversity of the UA campus. “The strong presence of native culture on campus allows everyone to learn about our cultures and traditions. It makes the U of A a special place to go to school. We have students representing more than 50 tribes.”
“The Native American population here at the U of A is thriving and it’s growing. I appreciate the fact that the U of A supports and advocates on behalf of our students,” says Tachine. Every year, at the beginning of the fall semester, the president of the University personally welcomes them to college at a special event.
“If you are a Native American student, you have support here to help you to achieve your goal of getting a college degree and to one day give back to your community,” says Tachine. The University of Arizona has a 70% persistence rate for Native American students, compared to an estimated national persistence rate between 30% and 40%. “It takes a lot of hard work for students to get into the U of A, and once they’re here, we do our best to support them the whole way through to their graduation.”
Nicole Scott is excited to be ending her four years of college with the Wildcat Powwow. She points to a group of girls running in circles and giggling on the grass. “They’re going to remember this,” she says, smiling. “They’re going to say, ‘I danced at the U of A. I could go to school there.’ That’s what I hope. I hope we’re role models for them.”