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University of Oregon Mother's Day Powwow designated an Oregon Heritage Tradition

April 30, 2018

The University of Oregon Mother’s Day Powwow, a Native American Student Union event, marks its upcoming 50th year with an Oregon Heritage Tradition designation by the Oregon Heritage Commission.


Other Oregon Heritage Traditions include the Oregon State Fair, Medford’s Pear Blossom Festival, the Pendleton Round-Up, and the Woodburn Fiesta Mexicana.


“The designation recognizes those traditions that have helped define the state,” said Todd Kepple, the commission’s chair. “This event celebrates Oregon’s deep roots.” 


The Mother’s Day Powwow started in 1969 as a way for the Native American Student Union (NASU) to help indigenous students strengthen cultural values while at the university and to support educational success of the Native American community. The emergence of the powwow closely paralleled actions of Oregon tribes to work towards restoration from being terminated in 1954. Many of the original NASU members in the late 1960s went on to become the leaders who worked toward restoration, and the powwow continues to serve the purpose of inspiring Native Students at the U of O to work on behalf of Native people.


The University of Oregon Mother’s Day Powwow holds the distinction of being the oldest off-reservation powwow in the state of Oregon. Over the years NASU members decided that the UO’s powwow should honor the contributions of all mothers and set the annual date for Mother’s Day weekend. Today the powwow brings dancers, singers and audiences together from across Oregon and the United States. It attracts over 10 drum groups and approximately 75 dancers from local and regional tribes each year. Over 8,000 participants attend the three day, family-friendly event, including Native American alumni who gather to honor the graduating students.


Gordon Bettles, former steward of the Many Nations Longhouse at University of Oregon, noted: “As a Native cultural event, the powwow offers a unique cultural space for Native students, faculty and staff members, and parents to recognize the traditions and accomplishments of their own people.”


The University of Oregon Mother’s Day Powwow wouldn’t be possible without countless hours from the Native American Student Union. A group of students plans and runs the powwow each year with help from faculty members, vendors and community volunteers.


The Mother’s Day Powwow will be held May 11- 13, 2018. It is free and open to the public. Regular dances are included that allow everyone to take part. A schedule can be found at: https://calendar.uoregon.edu/event/50th_annual_mothers_day_powwow#.Wuc9rn-QyUk


An Oregon Heritage Tradition must have been in continuous operation for more than 50 years, demonstrate a public profile and reputation that distinguishes it from more routine events, and add to the livability and identity of the state. A list of Tradition designations is available at http://www.oregon.gov/oprd/HCD/OHC/pages/oht.aspx .


The Oregon Heritage Commission coordinates efforts to solve statewide heritage issues through grants, education, and advocacy, and also promotes heritage tourism efforts.