When Mary Phillips stepped into the powwow arena at the University of Maryland on Saturday, she felt honored to dance with the dozens of Native American people who accompanied her.

Jingles rang and drums thrummed in the background, serving as a heartbeat for the traditional intertribal dance that Phillips and others participated in.

“Coming to a powwow is a calling for Native people when they hear the drums,” Phillips, a descendant of the Omaha and Laguna Pueblo tribes, said. “Most dancers come to powwow because they want to dance and show their contribution to the community.”

Hundreds of community members gathered together at the Ritchie Coliseum for the annual powwow, which this university has held since 1992. The event was organized by this university’s multicultural involvement and community advocacy office.

Powwows, which focus on singing, dancing and connecting with old and new community members, are a celebration of being Native American, according to Dennis Zotigh, who served as the event’s Master of Ceremonies.

Powwows also offer an opportunity for different tribes to meet each other and build relationships. Tribes hailing from Florida to New Mexico attended Saturday’s powwow. There are several hundred Native American tribes in the United States, Zotigh said.

“This is a very special time for us,” Zotigh said. “A time where families come together, young and old … sharing stories, sharing music and fellowship.”

Zotigh added that Schirra Gray, the arena director for the powwow, is from the Piscataway tribe, which is native to Maryland. It’s important to recognize how this university is built on the Piscataway tribe’s land, he said.

Many attendees wore bright regalia to the powwow, such as colorful bustles, headscarves and ribbon skirts. Regalia often symbolizes each individual’s culture and is made up of heirlooms that are passed down across generations.

Phillips wore a colorful Omaha style women’s top, ribbon skirt and breastplate gifted to her in the mid-90’s after she first declared she wanted to dance.

Vendors from different tribes lined the outskirts of the auditorium, selling beaded crafts, clothing and other goods.

The powwow featured a variety of traditional dances, such as a round dance and a potato dance, where pairs of people dance while holding a potato between their foreheads.

At powwows, women often perform a traditional jingle dress dance that symbolizes healing, while men traditionally perform a warrior dance, according to dancer Angela Gladue.

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Louis Campbell, the head male dancer at the powwow, said dancing is “like a prayer in motion.” Campbell performs traditional northern tribal dances, and each one represents different battles from different tribes.

“While we’re out there dancing in a circle with our regalias on, it’s like we’re out there praying,” he said. “Every tribe has their own meaning for each song, each dance.”

Two drum groups with members from across the country provided the rhythm and singing that backed the dances. Cameron Richardson, a descendant of the Haliwa-Saponi and Lumbee tribes in North Carolina who is part of the Stoney Creek drum group, said drumming is essential to a powwow.

For many Native American tribes, the drum often symbolizes “the heartbeat of the earth” and helps lead the dancing, he added.

“Without the drum, we can’t have a powwow,” Richardson said. “It’s a symbol of unity and it’s a symbol of honor.”

Many people attended the powwow to experience the traditions and learn more about Native American cultures, including Sasha Wetmore, who said the event opened her eyes to how welcoming Native Americans are about their traditions — such as one dance where all attendees could hold hands and dance in a circle.

“It’s nice to not only just be a spectator, but to also be involved,” she said.

For other attendees, the event allowed them to maintain connections to their own Native American culture.

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For Gladue, a descendent of the Cree tribe in Canada, the powwow provided an opportunity to connect with community members now that she lives in Washington, D.C.

“I’m from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and in the summer, in all the First Nations communities, there’s a different powwow every weekend, and I really missed that,” Gladue said. “Coming out here, there’s a few powwows a year and you gotta go because that’s the community. That’s where our culture lives.”

Junior anthropology major Abby Hardy, who is from the Monacan Indian nation in Virginia, said she often felt isolated growing up as she was unable to meet people who shared her Native American heritage.

Hardy, a member of this university’s Native and Indigenous Student Union, said it is important for this university to make land acknowledgments and support Native American students on campus, especially because they make up a smaller portion of the student population.

This powwow is one of the ways Native American people can feel support from this university, she said.

“Having a powwow here is a really good way to gain support, but it’s also hard because I don’t think a lot of people also really know what a powwow is,” she said. “It’s a ceremony at the same time as a celebration, so I think it’s important that UMD does that.”