Hozhoni Days Powwow draws historic crowd
The 57th annual Hozhoni Days drew a historic crowd of nearly 2,000 people to Whalen Gymnasium. Three vibrant events spanning March 29-31 celebrated Indigenous culture, history, and traditions woven into FLC’s fabric. It was a blur of scholarship exhibits, powwow competitions, and bustling vendor stalls. But at its core, Hozhoni Days provided a time for people to gather, dance, sing, heal, and celebrate traditions that are thousands of years old.
Hozhoni Days is FLC’s longest-running cultural celebration, dating back to 1966 when the Shalako Indian Club (now Wanbli Ota) first hosted it. “Hozhoni,” a Navajo term that roughly translates to "beauty,” was chosen by Clyde Benally (Humanities, ‘68), then a first-year student tasked by the FLC administration with making the Shalako Indian Club more active.
"I want them to know there was hope and happiness ahead. Their ancestors are cheering them on today, tomorrow, and forever."
— Shasta Hampton
Wanbli Ota did not charge entrance fees this year, drawing a massive crowd to the event. Attendees spectated the many contests, shopped at the massive vendor market, and savored frybread bought from a concessions stand with lines practically around the block. The free admission was due, in part, to corporate sponsor Centura Health.
"Our commitment to health care echoes beyond our walls into ways that support our community. We have chosen to do so by sponsoring FLC’s Hozhoni Days, honoring and celebrating the Indigenous community with roots in and around Durango,” said Meredith Ritchie, communications field advisor at Centura Health. “I met participants at Hozhoni Days from Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma—bringing people from near and far to those incredible events. I am proud to see our partnership with FLC grow by acknowledging the culture of the community members we care for.”
This year’s Hozhoni Days provided a pathway to healing for many of FLC’s Indigenous community members, aligning with this year’s theme of creating a “path to healing while restoring our rezilancy.”
“It was amazing,” said Shasta Hampton, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the student engagement program coordinator for the Native American Center. “When [Wanbli Ota] started to discuss this year’s theme, they wanted to focus on healing and knowing what resilience means. It was a good idea: the students are resilient, and their path to healing includes the self-realization that they are.”
Before the powwow, on Wednesday, March 29, Wanbli Ota hosted the Hozhoni Ambassador Scholarship Exhibition, a contest of public speaking and presentations for the title “Hozhoni Ambassador.” The Hozhoni Ambassador, and their first attendant, serve as the ambassadors of Wanbli Ota and the FLC Indigenous community. This year, Suntilla Jack, a first-year freshman studying Native American & Indigenous Studies, was chosen as the 2023-24 ambassador. Jordyn Begaye, a junior studying Psychology, will serve as the first attendant. Both Jack and Begaye greeted the crowd as the powwow began.
Following a Gourd Dance in the afternoon, the contest portion of the powwow kicked off with Grand Entry, where nearly 200 dancers in full regalia entered the arena. The dancers were divided into different categories based on age, gender, and dance style. Each category has its own set of dance movements and regalia, which are steeped in tradition and symbolism. The powwow was a visual feast, with the vibrant colors and intricate patterns of the dancers' outfits creating a stunning spectacle.
“Thank you to everyone who made this possible,” said Mikayla Sarracino, president of Wanbli Ota, in her opening address on the powwow’s second night. “We’re happy to have you here.”
Hozhoni Days drew many members of the FLC community, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Tyrell Gray (Sports Administration, ‘22), a member of the Navajo Nation, served as the headman for the powwow. Gray, who has danced powwow circuits since 2011, was supposed to serve as the headman for the 2020 Hozhoni Days before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted those plans. This year, he was honored to fulfill his original term.
“I was very appreciative of the opportunity to return to FLC and represent the community as an alumnus and a citizen of the Navajo Nation,” Gray said. “[Dancing] is a great way to spread positivity for those who can’t dance, like disabled people, our elders, and those who have passed. I am grateful to the community members who worked to ensure the powwow went well.”
This year’s Hozhoni Days was staffed by nearly 100 volunteers, some of whom came from diverse student organizations like the Geology Club, Club Del Centro, Pueblo Alliance, and the Rising Matriarchs. In addition to volunteers, nearly 40 Indigenous-owned businesses, 15 of which were student-owned, sold their goods at the vendor market. The powwow and the vendor market provided a space for cultural expression, community gathering, economic activity, and the celebration and preservation of Indigenous cultures. These aspects of Hozhoni Days will undoubtedly contribute to its expansion in the future.
“Hozhoni Days has grown over time because of the students involved,” Hampton said. “I have seen them face adversity. Through it all, the students were resilient. Organizing this powwow speaks to their strong-minded character.”
Hampton continued, expressing her hopes for Indigenous students going forward.
“I want them to know there was hope and happiness ahead. Their ancestors are cheering them on today, tomorrow, and forever.”