Spirit of the Eagle Powwow Hosted on “Whole New Level” Despite Administrative Conflict, Hate Groups on Campus


By Cannon Barnett

People danced to the rhythmic pounding of drums, the bells on their regalia bringing an intense vibrancy to the room. Some in the audience watched intently, while others sat back and relished in being surrounded by culture.

On June 3rd, hundreds gathered for the annual Spirit of the Eagle Powwow in Eastern Washington University’s Reese Court. While it has been a tradition for over 50 years, this year is the second back from a decade hiatus and was brought to “a whole new level”, according to the Native American Student Association’s (NASA) president, Strong Heart.

The powwow holds significance for many Native Americans due to its focus on connection to both the earth and communities. Strong Heart described the beating of drums as the “heartbeat of Mother Earth,” and said that he hopes that the event can help people see themselves differently.

“A good amount of Native people didn’t get to grow up traditional, or are lost in the bottle and drugs and have no sense of themselves or their cultures,” Strong Heart said.  “Then they go to something like [the powwow] and it completely changes their lives. To have that change just one person, it is worth all the effort and work.”

Strong Heart described the beating of drums as the “heartbeat of Mother Earth”, which represents the connectedness of all those present. It is to these drums that performers dance to.

“We dance and suffer and sacrifice for everyone who cant or isn’t willing or those who have passed on. We dance for our elders, we dance for our ancestors. It is a very giving thing.” Strong Heart said.

In order to make this comeback, NASA had to raise roughly $25,000. They were sponsored by the American Indian Studies Program (AISP), the American Indian Community Center, the Spokane Tribe, and Northern Quest Casino, but they were not without obstacles in hosting this event.

“Eastern Washington University, especially this area you know, there is a lot of racism, a lot of microaggressions,” Strong Heart said. “Specifically with this being the traditional homelands of the Spokane people, but a predominantly white area. That comes with a lot of racism and microaggressions that I have personally experienced.”

The presence of far-right groups on campus and conflicts with EWU administration has been a lot for NASA to endure this year, according to Ka’din Rahman, the association’s vice president. Specifically, they cited white supremacy stickers being put on the American Indian Center, and mixed messages from administration.

“There has just been a lot of conflict from administration towards NASA and a lot of the other diversity programs, so that’s something that we really had to overcome this year to be able to pull off something like the powwow,” Rahman said.

Strong Heart also cites some of the AISP staff, including program director Deirdre Almeida, as being obstacles, despite the program being a sponsor.

“They don’t do their jobs. They don’t care for their communities, they don’t care for our people and they don’t care for the powwow,” he said. “They don’t put the effort or work in, and then they come and take all the credit when it is done as faculty, which I have no respect or tolerance for.”

Despite all of this, NASA continued to work towards the powwow.

“We’ve been through a lot of things, a lot of obstacles, a lot of negativity and toxicity, internal conflicts and things going on to hurt us, to try and stop [the powwow] from happening. But it is going to happen, damn it. And that is what I am here for,” said Strong Heart.