"Days of beauty." Its Navajo name is perfectly suited to Hozhoni Days -- a month of pageantry, speakers, powwowing, and celebration of cultures that is Fort Lewis College's longest-standing student-led tradition. And it honors what might be argued is really Fort Lewis College's oldest tradition: Native American education.
Each year, Hozhoni Days culminates in the Hozhoni Days Powwow, the campus's premiere spring event, at which all FLC students come together to celebrate the diversity FLC stands for. For two days, Whalen Gymnasium is filled with Native dancers, singers, and performers from around the nation. Also, at the Saturday night powwow, the new Ms. Hozhoni is crowned.
The Ms. Hozhoni Pageant is a three-day contest consisting of public speaking, traditional food presentations, and traditional and modern talent performances. The person holding the title of Ms. Hozhoni is recognized for the following year as the ambassador of Wanbli Ota and the Fort Lewis College Native community.
Hozhoni Days dates back to 1966, when the Shalako Indian Club, an early incarnation of today's Wanbli Ota, turned a small on-campus event into a full-blown celebration, and renamed the multi-day event "Hozhoni Days." The early Hozhoni Days consisted of three days that featured a banquet, powwow, and basketball tournament. Over the years, the Hozhoni Days powwow became a contest powwow and grew. Today competitive powwow performers come from all over the United States to drum, sing, and dance on the Skyhawks gym floor.
The title "Hozhoni Days" was bestowed on the event by Clyde Benally, known today as "the Father of Hozhoni Days." Benally was a freshman when he was asked by the deans of the college to help make the Shalako Club more active. His response was the creation of Hozhoni Days.
"It was to have the students work together so they get to know each other, and to share their Native culture, and to showcase it to the total student body on campus," says Benally, who graduated in 1968 with a degree in Humanities.
Benally chose the title "Hozhoni" because it is a Navajo term roughly meaning "beauty," although it also alludes to a deeper sense of harmony and balance. The word represented the goals of the event, he says. "It was the showing and sharing of our culture with each other, and a way of developing brotherhood and sisterhood with other students who may be from different cultures."
The Shalako Indian Club’s named changed in 1970s to Wambidiota Club, eventually taking on its present moniker, Wanbli Ota -- meaning "many eagles" in the Lakota language -- in 1991. Wanbli Ota remains the prime sponsor of Hozhoni Days, but also puts on events including from public presentations, speakers and artists, workshops and cultural performances.