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21st Annual Powwow, Winds of Change ‘Top Colleges’ list heighten UTA commitment to Native American students and community

Hundreds of members of Native American nations indigenous to Texas, Oklahoma, and surrounding states, as well as individuals simply interested in American Indian history and culture will celebrate dance, singing, storytelling, music and art during the 21st Annual Scholarship Benefit Powwow at The University of Texas at Arlington.

Representatives of numerous Native American tribes participated in the 20th Annual Benefit Powwow last year at the E.H. Hereford University Center. The event raises money for scholarships and is sponsored by UTA's Native American Student Association. Bottom, Joseph Bohanon, left, was honored as founder of NASA at UTA. He teaches Native American studies and psychology at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and is the co-owner of Native Insights Consulting Firm.

The event will be held 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, in the E.H. Hereford University Center Bluebonnet Ballroom, 300 W. First St. Admission is free and open to the public. The Powwow is sponsored by the UTA Native American Student Association, which is the longest, continuously running college Native student group in Texas. 

 “A lot of Native American student associations go out of existence because of various issues, but UTA’s NASA has survived because of the support of the community and hard work of the students, both Native and non-Native,” said Kenneth Roemer, a longtime UTA NASA faculty advisor, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Distinguished Scholar Professor and expert in American Indian literature. “The UTA community and the Metroplex have benefited from a variety of programs sponsored or co-sponsored by NASA since the mid-1990s, which include exhibits, workshops, talks, films, performances and events such as the Powwows.”

These events and scholarships NASA offers were some of the reasons why the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s Winds of Change magazine named UTA to the 2015-16 “Top 200 Colleges for Native Americans” list. The schools are presented in alphabetical order by state and are not ranked. UTA is the only UT System school to be named to the list.

In addition to community support, evaluators focused on the academic support system, from admission to graduation; the availability for all students and Native Americans to earn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) undergraduate degrees; And, the six-year graduation rate for all undergraduates and for American Indians.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, congratulated UTA on the longevity of its NASA organization and recognition as a top school for Native American students.

“I am especially proud of UTA’s accomplishments, which speak to the University’s elevation as a major research institution and culturally relevant campus,” said Alonzo, who in 2013 authored House Bill 174, which created the first American Indian Heritage Day in Texas. Much of HB 174 was written on the UTA campus.

“UTA has continued to distinguish itself as a school of unprecedented excellence and is truly becoming the model for what a 21st century urban research university should be,” said Alonzo, echoing the themes and aspirations of the University’s Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact, which has a focus on research, teaching and community engagement.

Roemer noted that more than 32 scholarships have been awarded to students since the UTA NASA was founded in 1994. He added that, besides his own work on Native literature, the research activities of many UTA faculty, staff and students relate mainly or in part to Native Americans and have garnered national recognition, among them:

  • Anthropology: Joseph Bastien (ret.) professor
  • Art: Darryl Lauster, assistant professor
  • Business: Myrtle Bell, professor
  • History: Robert Caldwell, graduate teaching assistant, Ph.D. student; Paul Conrad, assistant professor
  • Interdisciplinary Studies: Donna Akers, associate professor and director (Choctaw)
  • Liberal Arts: Les Riding-In, assistant dean and director of Graduate Programs (Pawnee-Osage)
  • Linguistics: Colleen Fitzgerald, professor
  • Multicultural Affairs: Leticia Martinez, director
  • Social Work: Maria Scannapieco, professor and director for the Center for Child Welfare
  • Sociology: Krystal Beamon, associate professor

Departments that regularly offer courses related to Native Americans include Anthropology, English, History, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Linguistics. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, UTA hosted the Native Revisioning Football Classic. The high school football players came from as many as 30 different reservations.

Powwow, pageantry and prayer

Many of the 120 Native American tribal affiliations in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area will be represented at the Feb. 27 Powwow, which offers something for everyone. Michael Burgess, president of Pawnee Nation College in Pawnee, Okla., will serve as master of ceremonies.

In addition to a tribute and ceremonial prayer for Native warriors and all military service people, the Powwow will honor the life and contributions of the late Dr. Rodney Stapp, a member of the Comanche Nation.

Stapp worked in the telecommunications field, but switched to podiatric medicine after his mother lost both her legs to diabetes. He consulted with Nike on the Nike Air Native N7 shoe, which helps to prevent foot ulcers in diabetic patients. Dr. Stapp also served as chief executive officer of Dallas’ Urban Inter-Tribal Center, a place dedicated to the health, care and trust of the Native American community. Stapp, 54, died last month in a car accident.

The Powwow will host a film festival from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. See a list of the films to be screened at www.facebook.com/UTA.powwow.

Other highlights include traditional drumming, and dancers in full regalia. The clothing is considered a unique expression of spirit, often comprised of heirlooms and other articles handmade by family and friends handed down from generation to generation.

“These events give Native American community members a chance, in some cases, to connect with relatives from across Texas and often from Oklahoma,” Roemer said. “Some people come to hear songs that are very sacred to them; others come to dance and enjoy a purely social gathering.”

Stephanie Vielle, president of the UTA NASA, said for non-Native Americans, the Powwow presents an opportunity to learn about Native American culture and to patronize vendors who will offer up delectables such as fry bread or Indian tacos.  

“Some visitors know very little about this world, which is why the emcee explains Powwow terms over and over again,” said Vielle, a senior political science major and citizen of the Blackfeet tribe. “The drum, for example, is recognized as the heartbeat of our people, but we want all people to understand its significance. Our culture and history is America’s story.”

Visit www.uta.edu/powwow for more information about UTA’s 21st Annual Powwow. Find a campus map online at www.uta.edu/maps/?building=UC.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie “highest research activity” institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.