The sound of jingle dresses, drumming and singing filled the arena of the Sanford Coyote Sports Center for the 46th annual Wacipi on Saturday and Sunday.
Jessilyn Bean, president of Tiospaye Student Council, said the Wacipi is a chance for people to get together to celebrate the Native American culture.
“Traditionally not all tribes would participate in these (pow wows), but because of how the times have changed, we’re evolving and adapting just like every other group,” Bean said. “As our culture, we’ve adapted these ways to celebrate who we are.”
The theme for this year’s Wacipi was “wherever you walk, you are not alone.” Bean said the theme holds a few different interpretations, such as a reminder for Native students that they are not alone on their journey through college. The theme was also relevant to April as sexual assault awareness month, and the theme color for the event was teal.
“That’s a big problem in Indian country. Here in the United States and Canada, our women and our men are sexually assaulted at higher rates than any other race,” Bean said. “In conjunction with that, we have the missing and murdered indigenous women, and a lot of times there’s sex trafficking or they’re taken because of that so we wanted to bring awareness to hopefully work to stop that in Indian country.”
Sydney Schad, a junior health sciences major and student advisor for Tiospaye Student Council, said the Wacipi brings a positive light to the Native community.
“It’s not just a group of students at USD, there’s the Wase Wakpa community here in Vermillion and then it really unites the nine different tribes in South Dakota and we have people coming from Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wyoming,” Schad said. “All these different places and we come here under one passion and just being a community.”
The Wacipi featured singers, dancers and drummers as well as food and craft vendors.
“This year, we’re lucky enough we had the Lakota women warriors as part of our color guard,” she said. “They’re a group of all women veterans.”
Danielle Whirlwind Horse, a fancy dancer and former USD student, said she started dancing before she could even walk.
“I had two role models growing up and one was my Auntie,” Whirlwind Horse said. “I’d always watch her dance and she’d always take me out in the middle with her and I guess that’s how I got my love for dancing fancy.”
Whirlwind Horse said “fancy dancing” means the dancer is out there free and “floating like a butterfly.”
“It’s just you and yourself and that drum,” she said.
Whirlwind Horse said dancing is a getaway for her.
“I just like to dance for the elders and the one’s who can’t dance,” she said. “It’s fun to dance and it’s like my getaway.”
As soon as this year’s Wacipi is over, Tiospaye Student Council will start planning next year’s event. Bean said other Native American groups on campus also help plan the event.
“It’s a lot of work for us, but just to see everybody’s happy reaction and the love that they have for the event, it’s just really rewarding to see the people’s smiles and hear the laughter,” Bean said.
Schad said one of her favorite parts of the Wacipi is the sense of relief that comes during it.
“There’s a time where everything feels like you can just take a breath and you can just sit down and watch it,” Shad said. “It really puts into perspective all the hard work and all the meetings and emails and fundraising. It’s relieving and it brings so many emotions to see it all in action.”
Bean said she wants people to know that her culture is still here.
“We still have a beautiful and vibrant culture, we practice our culture all the time,” she said. “We encourage people to ask questions and talk to people and just learn. It (Wacipi) does provide a time for them to sit and ask questions and experience our culture in a setting that they’re not used to.”
Video by Nick Nelson for Coyote News.