Cecilia Sanchez has always had a sense of longing.
Sanchez’s father was separated from his family, like other Native children in the years before the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. This has made it difficult for Sanchez to connect with her Apache heritage.
“There’s nowhere for me to look, so I can only look in others, or look in history, or look in my own research,” Sanchez said. “It’s very important because I always knew I was Native, but it’s kind of hard when you don’t have that [connection] growing up … because you’re like, ‘Where do I ﬁt in?’”
At IU, Sanchez has found ways to reconnect with her Native identity. A senior majoring in exercise science, Sanchez frequents IU Bloomington’s First Nations Educational and Cultural Center. She has served as treasurer of the Native American Student Association and a member of IU’s Powwow Committee. In 2022, the IU Traditional Powwow celebrated its 10th year.
The opportunities that IU’s powwow provides are inspiring, said Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs James Wimbush in his welcome address to the 2021 virtual powwow.
“This spirit of mutual understanding represents the very best of what we offer at Indiana University,” Wimbush said.
A powwow is an intertribal gathering where people from different Native communities share their cultures and traditions. In bringing Native and non-Native people together, powwows create a space for learning, sharing, raising awareness, and educating on contemporary Native life. Music and dancing are key elements, with the songs and resounding drumbeats providing the soundtrack.
“Drums really hit me hard for some reason,” Sanchez said.
I was taught that the drum is supposed to mimic the heartbeat of your mother, the heartbeat of the earth.
“I was taught that the drum is supposed to mimic the heartbeat of your mother, the heartbeat of the earth,” said sophomore Kain Eller, a member of the Lummi Nation who has served as a Powwow Committee member and vice president of the Native American Student Association.
“There’s a certain spirit in the drum that is home, and that connection to the drums and to music and Indigenous culture is important to me,” Eller said.
Connection is a key part of the mission of IU’s First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, which supports the powwow, among other activities and programs.
“The First Nations Center is a place for Native and Indigenous students to come and be themselves: to relax, to learn from one another, to share in each other’s cultural traditions and to ﬁnd community,” said IU alumnus and director of the center, Nicky Belle, PhD’16.
“Our primary goal … is to help make sure Native students are able to experience IU through a Native lens, while still being able to stay connected to their home communities,” Belle said.
In her longing to reconnect with her ancestry, Sanchez found comfort at the First Nations Center. “Now I feel like I have a place here,” she said.
Thank you to Julia Hodson at IU Studios for her original reporting on the 2022 IU Traditional Powwow.
Want to help advance IU’s efforts to support American Indian and Indigenous students in their transition to and achievement at Indiana University Bloomington? Support the work of IU’s First Nations Educational and Cultural Center.
This article was originally published in the 2022 issue of Imagine magazine.