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Whitman College Hosts Inaugural Pášx̣apa Pow Wow Honoring Indigenous Heritage

Nov 24, 2023

Dancers honor tradition by standing at attention during the grand entry at Whitman College’s first Pášx̣apa Pow Wow. The Sherwood Athletic Center overflowed with culture, stories, and unity, leaving attendees with standing room only. The popularity of this event has already prompted the search for a larger venue for the 2024 Pášx̣apa Pow Wow.

by Jill-Marie Gavin, CRITFC Communications

WALLA WALLA Wash. – In a historic and poignant event, Whitman
College hosted its first-ever Pášx̣apa (PASH-ha-pa) Pow Wow, marking a significant milestone in its efforts towards reconciliation and honoring Indigenous heritage. Held at the Sherwood Athletic Center on November 18, the event symbolized a bridge between the institution’s history and its commitment to fostering stronger relations with the local Indigenous communities.

The significance of this celebration reaches back to the complex history tied to the land where Whitman College stands. The college has acknowledged and grappled with its connection to Marcus Whitman, after whom it is named. Whitman was a missionary whose arrival in the area led to profound consequences for the Cayuse Tribe, the region’s original inhabitants. His actions, despite warnings from the Cayuse Tribe, resulted in conflict, tragic loss, and an all-out war against Indigenous people in the region. 

Dancers filled the floor during an intertribal song, inviting everyone at the pow wow to join in and dance. All attendees are encouraged to dance during these songs whether they’re in regalia or street clothes. Photos: Jill-Marie Gavin, CRITFC

One pivotal moment in this history was the capture and execution of the Cayuse Five. They are still honored  by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation as heroes to this day. Their bravery and sacrifice contributed to Whitman College’s decision to establish a full scholarship in their honor and actively engage in efforts aimed at healing historical wounds. 

The term “Pášx̣apa,” is the traditional place name where the college lies. It means “the place of the sunflowers” in Walla Walla language.  It was in this area where the Treaty of 1855 was negotiated between the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes and the United States.  

At the heart of this inaugural event was Whitman College sophomore Lindsey Pasena-Littlesky, named the first Miss Pášx̣apa. A proud representative of Hopi, Pueblo, and Oglala Lakota heritage, Pasena-Littlesky is an Environmental Science and Politics Major. Having grown up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and actively served on the Umatilla Tribes’ Youåçth Council for six years, her role as Miss Pášx̣apa signifies a powerful link between the college and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. 

Lindsey Pasena-Littlesky was crowned inaugural Miss Pášx̣apa, representing the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and her community until a new pow wow royalty process is established. Pictured in the stunning ‘Miss Pášx̣apa’ regalia crafted for the occasion, Pasena-Littlesky showcases tradition and anticipation for future honorees.

The Miss Pášx̣apa crown presented to Pasena-Littlesky was beaded by Whitman alumus Roger Amerman (Choctaw descent). It featured a sunflower—a symbol deeply rooted in Cayuse history and culture specifically tied to the land where the event took place. She was also presented with a buckskin sash crafted by Wetalu Henry (Nez Perce) an artist with the Indigenous-owned business, Nchi’ Wanna LuluHenry.  

In reflecting on the pow wow, Pasena-Littlesky expressed profound gratitude towards Whitman College President Sara Bolton and Jeanine Gordon, the college’s Special Assistant to the President for Native American Outreach.

Univerity of Oregon Pow Wow Royalty Court represents at Pášx̣apa Pow Wow: from left is Miss Indigenous Keyen Singer, Indigenous Cultural Ambassador Megan Van Pelt, and Mr. Indigenous Yazzie Chee.

“The event was spectacular and gathered so many Native people together. There was so much laughter and fun, but more importantly, this event built historic moments. This event was healing for the land and the people who come from it,” said Pasena-Littlesky. 

The inaugural Pášx̣apa Pow Wow stands as a testament to Whitman College’s commitment to acknowledging its past, honoring Indigenous heritage, and fostering a future of collaboration, understanding, and respect.Through initiatives like this, the college aims to continue its journey toward reconciliation and meaningful engagement with the Indigenous communities it serves. 

The event was packed to the brim and all the seats were filled leaving only room to stand around the edges of the athletic center. The planning is already underway for next year after the success of this new event. The hunt is on for a larger venue as coordinators have witnessed the demand for more cultural programming at the college. 

Whitman College President Sarah Bolton (left) pauses for a photo with Jeanine Gordon (right), Special Assistant to the President for Native American Outreach and member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla.

“The inaugural annual Pášx̣apa Powwow surpassed all expectations—an incredible gathering celebrating unity among diverse Tribes and communities across our region. Gratitude to Whitman College, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Walla Walla Community College, and our dedicated powwow planning committee for making this a resounding success,” said Gordon. “I’m already anticipating the next gathering.”