2017-02-15 / Top News

Indian Style Inaugural: Sovereignty, drums, dancers & songs

By Joanna Mounce Stancil,
President, Native American Communications

A large group of Native Americans participated in the American Indian Society of Washington D.C.’s Inaugeral Pow Wow, during which the National Congress of American Indians held its Indian Nations and the Trump Presidential Transition meeting. A large group of Native Americans participated in the American Indian Society of Washington D.C.’s Inaugeral Pow Wow, during which the National Congress of American Indians held its Indian Nations and the Trump Presidential Transition meeting. It was just after midnight on Jan. 22, 2017 and the American Indian Society of Washington D.C.’s (AIS) Inaugural Pow Wow had just ended. But if you closed your eyes you could still feel the drum and the singers; of course more in your soul than in the Hyatt Regency Crystal City banquet room. I am just one of the volunteers (Communications Director), that helped pull AIS’s Inaugural events together – a herculean effort of devotion, hard work, and sleepless nights, mixed with a dash of drama. AIS recently went through a reorganization to help ensure its survivability long into the future.

AIS is a 50-year-old, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization seasoned in bringing Indigenous people living here in Washington, D.C. together and welcoming visitors. “Since 1969 every four years AIS has provided a gathering place for all Tribal leaders, tribal nations and Native individuals that travel to Washington, D.C. for the Jan. 20 Presidential Inauguration, said Mitchel Bush, (Onondaga) an AIS founder and member of AIS’s Elder Council.” On Friday, Jan. 20, 2107, AIS hosted its 13th Inaugural Ball.

Before you scream “how could we celebrate this inauguration?” The Ball and Pow Wow were in celebration of Sovereign Partnerships, Past, Present and Future. This was a celebration of being Tribal, of being visible, of being heard, and way to show that we continue to stand firm for our sovereignty. On that topic, on Thursday, Jan. 19 the National Congress of American Indians held their Indian Nations and the Trump Presidential Transition meeting. The meeting was not open to the media, so I took off my journalist hat and attended as a Tribal guest. To honor that privilege, I won’t disclose too much other than this was a listening session where Tribal leaders had an opportunity to share their concerns, needs and hopes with representatives of the Trump transition team. AIS partnered with NCAI and hosted an evening reception to welcome our Tribal leaders.

AIS arranged for 11 Native students, attending George Washington University’s political science program, to attend the NCAI meeting. The NCAI meeting, AIS’s Inaugural Dinner, Ball and Pow Wow were great opportunities for the students to listen and learn, to interact with Tribal leaders, and to enjoy the Inaugural experience from the Tribal perspective.

During the AIS Inaugural Dinner guests were welcomed to the area – which just happens to be part of the Piscataway Tribes of Maryland’s original homelands. Although the AIS Dinner and Ball didn’t draw as many guests as in previous Inaugural years everyone enjoyed great food, and entertainment. We heard from some tribes that they weren’t in the celebrating mood because of who was being inaugurated. Attendance was also lower than expected for the National Museum of American Indians’ Ball and lower than hoped for NCAI’s Transition meeting.

The AIS Dinner and Ball were a chance to dress up in Black Tie and Ball Gowns, but also an opportunity to show individual fashion flare by dressing in a tux, western boots and hat and bolo-tie – always a handsome statement. The Ball featured Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida Nation) singing some of her most notable songs; always a crowd pleaser.

On the more traditional side, on Saturday, Jan. 21 the AIS held its Inaugural Pow Wow. Dancers came in from as far away as Canada. Honored guests included Royce Gay, grandson of Chief of Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. AIS took this opportunity to recognize individuals for their contributions to Indian Country. Among those recognized was acclaimed recording artist Joanne Shenandoah who received the Lifetime Legacy Award. Not in attendance, but recognized, were Charlotte Logan and Ashley Morris (Onondaga) who received the Mother Earth Stewardship Award for their work to save the Monarch Butterfly – a key pollinator that is fighting for survival.

Perhaps the most memorable and moving event of the Pow Wow were the young Water Protectors who recounted their experience at the Sacred Stone Resistance Camp and the hardships they endured to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Comparing his experience to that of protesters here in D.C., Morgun Frejo (Pawnee/Navajo) shared, “I saw a protest here in DC – they were scared by the police who used pepper spray – that is normal for us now.”

“Water is life – Life is Beauty,” said Jasilea Charger (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe). “We are dealing with people who care more about a piece of paper than they do our youth and our future,” she stressed.

“It doesn’t take an extraordinary leader to make a change,” said Jasilyn

Charger (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe). “It’s not okay to be on your knees. Mother Earth – we heard her cries – we understood her need.”

AIS has 50 years of bringing Indian Country together here in D.C. They chose their 2017 Inaugural theme well “Sovereign Relationships Past, Present and Future. The 2017 AIS Inaugural events brought together sovereignty, drums and singers to honor the past, celebrate the present and give hope to the future.

(Joanna Mounce Stancil (Cherokee/Shawnee) is President of Native American Communications and can be reached at Stancil

Return to top

This Week's Poll

Should Washington stop using "Redskins" as their mascot?