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Carolina Indian Circle takes its annual powwow virtual

The student group has reimagined its annual event into a virtual format with powwow dancers in their full regalia submitting videos, which will then be shared online.

A powwow dancer in Fetzer Hall
A powwow dancer in Fetzer Hall during the 31st Annual Carolina Indian Circle Powwow in 2018. This year's event will be held virtually on the Carolina Indian Circle's Facebook page. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

For more than 30 years, the spinning of colorful regalia and thumping sounds of Native American drums at the Carolina Indian Circle’s powwow has been a yearly spring tradition in Chapel Hill.

Although the pandemic has forced the student organizers to move the event outside Fetzer Hall this year, the Carolina community can still join in on the cultural celebration on social media. The Carolina Indian Circle has reimagined the annual event into a virtual format with powwow dancers in their full regalia submitting videos, which will then be shared online.

Dancers began submitting videos Wednesday afternoon using the hashtag #CICvirtualpowwow, and the student organization will continue to collect submissions through Friday at midnight. The videos will then be published on the Carolina Indian Circle’s Facebook page on Sunday when the winners are announced.

Traditionally held on Carolina’s campus, the celebration draws dozens of dancers and drummers from Native American tribes in North Carolina and the surrounding states to kick off the powwow season.

“Powwows are dances and a traditional space where native people can come together and showcase their traditions,” said Skylar Chavis, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior and president of the Carolina Indian Circle. “That’s our first and foremost purpose  — to be part of our culture.”

After initially considering canceling this year’s event, the Carolina Indian Circle was determined to find a way to bring that community back together, even if just virtually.

“I think some of our hesitations were because powwows are a space for community and for seeing friends and family and just for gathering. It felt like ‘How we are going to keep that feeling going?’” Chavis said. “We realized that for us, it was more important to ensure that dancers had an opportunity to dance and to get back to doing what they love and what they’re really good at.”

The event is also an opportunity to showcase Native American culture to the broader Carolina community, break down stereotypes and promote understanding of what it means to be Native American in the 21st century, Chavis said.

“A lot of primary education of Native Americans in the United States kind of stops after the Trail of Tears, and it feels like Native Americans just disappeared. That’s not true at all,” she said. “We’re holding such a prevalent part of society, so it’s important to showcase what it means to be a Native American today.”

Even though the event is being held virtually and spectators will not fully be immersed in the powwow atmosphere, Chavis believes the videos will still carry the same energy from years past and serve as a spotlight for the University’s Native American students.

“This is still here. This is powerful. This is what we’re a part of. It’s beautiful, and it deserves respect and recognition,” she said. “Even watching people dance online, it’s so powerful to see that full-body transformation. Just watching somebody do those dances, you start moving, too. It’s such an experience, and I think people can still gain that online.”

Visit the Carolina Indian Circle’s Facebook page to follow along