Pášx̣apa Powwow Celebrates Culture and Collaboration
More than 400 people came from three states and five tribal communities to attend this monumental event.
By Heidi Pitts ’01
In a historic display of celebration and collaboration, Whitman College partnered with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) and Walla Walla Community College to host the inaugural Pášx̣apa Powwow on Saturday, November 18, 2023, at the Sherwood Athletic Center.
A Sherwood gymnasium was transformed for the powwow, the first held on the land now housing Whitman’s campus in over 160 years. CTUIR General Council Chairman Lindsey Watchman said, “Having a powwow here on the grounds very close to where the original treaty was signed in 1855 is definitely a monumental moment.”
The Pášx̣apa Powwow drew in more than 400 attendees, with tribal members from throughout the region coming as well as Whitman students and faculty and members of the Walla Walla community. Invited drummers hailed from multiple Northwest tribal communities including the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, Nez Perce and CTUIR.
Expressing Thanks for Whitman and CTUIR’s Partnership
Whitman College President Sarah Bolton expressed gratitude for everyone in attendance, saying, “We are so honored to host this very special event, and to be joined by great dancers, singers, drummers and so many guests.” She called the powwow a beautiful expression of the collaboration and shared vision of the Whitman and CTUIR communities.
During the powwow’s opening ceremonies, Watchman presented a tribal nation flag to President Bolton as a token of CTUIR’s friendship with the college.
Watchman said that the partnership that allowed for the creation of the Pášx̣apa Powwow has been a years-long commitment for both the tribe and the school. First formalized in 2017 and strengthened with a follow-up Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in 2022, the collaboration focuses on developing curricula centered around Native American studies, enhancing Native American recruitment and retention at Whitman, and fostering shared research interests.
Working Together to Support Student Success
Over the past year, there have been several new developments related to the MOA, including the appointment of CTUIR member Jeanine Gordon as Whitman’s first Special Assistant to the President for Native American Outreach. Gordon’s role focuses on ensuring the priorities outlined in the MOA are met, planning events for Native American alumni, and coordinating efforts to support Native American students. Gordon co-chaired the powwow planning committee with CTUIR member Fred Hill Sr.
The MOA emphasizes educational opportunities for both the CTUIR and Whitman communities. This past summer Whitman faculty and students provided a four-week STEM program for tribal youth. Kendall Rosario, Youth Services Manager in the CTUIR Education Department, cited the importance of workshops like the salmon life cycle, which allowed tribal students to connect their education with their cultural heritage and excited them for future STEM learning.
To expand its curricular offerings, Whitman is hiring an Assistant Professor in Indigenous Histories of the North American West. In addition to teaching, this professor will work with students in summer internships and other research projects that expand the college’s attention to issues of indigeneity.
A key outcome of the MOA is the Šináata Scholarship, a generous program offered in partnership with CTUIR for students who are enrolled tribal members or have close ties to the reservation. The scholarship covers the full cost of attendance at Whitman, including tuition and fees, room and board, and books and supplies, and is renewable for all four years.
Students Lead at Powwow and in Native American Community
Wolf was on the planning committee, working with Whitman staff and CTUIR members on everything from event logistics to publicity. He danced in the powwow and also served as a dance contest judge.
Pasena-Littlesky was crowned as the first Miss Pášx̣apa in recognition of her leadership in the CTUIR youth community and the Indigenous student club at Whitman. In her acceptance speech, Pasena-Littlesky said that she hopes to go on to encourage Indigenous youth to pursue higher education and help them develop leadership skills.
Gordon emphasized the importance of role models emerging from events like the Pášx̣apa Powwow. As young kids at the powwow looked up to Wolf and Pasena-Littlesky, they saw not just a celebration of their own culture but a tangible representation of a future in college, and perhaps at Whitman.
Reflecting on CTUIR and Whitman’s shared mission, Gordon said, “Today’s Pášx̣apa Powwow is a beautiful time of gathering and collaboration, and such a meaningful way of bringing the Memorandum of Agreement to life.”
A Beautiful Expression of Native Culture
Enjoy photos of the festivities and dancing at the inaugural Pášx̣apa Powwow. Learn more about Native American Outreach at Whitman College.
Photos by Ethan Swihart, Whitman College Video and Multimedia Producer.