Commentary: Carolina Indian Circle Powwow affirms, ‘We Are Still Here.’

At their final CIC Powwow, UNC seniors include (left to right and top to bottom) Ryan Dial-Stanley, Brooklyn Brown, Lexy Locklear, Savannah Mercure, Jamison Lowery, Blake Hite, Maya Carter and Annabelle Webb with Native student engagement coordinator Qua Lynch Adkins. (Photo by Anna Darrow)

I was raised on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee, N.C. When I came to UNC in 2016, I felt an isolation that I did not expect. I was an Indian kid at a predominantly white institution, and I needed someone who knew how I felt.

I met a Lumbee girl named Cheyenne Bullard in my Cherokee Language class (a class I was taking as my “foreign language” credit). She invited me to attend a meeting with the Carolina Indian Circle (CIC). I walked into a room filled with laughter. I felt at ease in that room.

UNC seniors Brooklyn Brown (left) and Lexy Locklear (right) hold hands during a dance honoring the Carolina Indian Circle’s graduating class. (Photo by Anna Darrow)

I attended the CIC Powwow that spring and I heard music and ate food that felt like home. I got hugs from women who looked like my mom. I bought jewelry that looked like gifts from my grandma at Christmas.

The CIC Powwow is a chance for the Native students at Carolina to shout their culture out the doors in Fetzer Gym. You feel like the pounding of those powwow drums could be heard on West Franklin Street. Our CIC shirts always read, “We Are Still Here” across our backs; Powwow is one of our greatest reminders.

At this year’s Powwow, I was sitting at a booth, teaching children how to make traditional Cherokee bead rings. Those bright young girls reminded me of myself, years ago at Cherokee Elementary School, yearning for the day I would be at Carolina.

As we were beading, I heard a call for all of the CIC seniors to come into the dancing arena. We danced to a senior honor song. As our community walked through the arena to share congratulations, one of the moms of those young girls said, “I owe you. The girls kept saying they can’t wait for you to come back.”

Our theme for the Powwow this year was “Native Youth.” We are passing our torch to the next generations as we move forward on our journey, but we will be back.

Powwows are a celebration, a gathering and a family reunion. I cannot wait to reunite with my classmates and enjoy the celebration of our Native youth continuing to thrive at Carolina.