How a celebration of dance led to a conversation about powwows

How a celebration of dance led to a conversation about powwows
Nov 1, 2022

Our First Nations & Indigenous Peoples employee community network hosted a talking circle on Indigenous Peoples Day

Our employee community networks help us connect with others who share similar backgrounds, interests, challenges, and goals—but also broaden our awareness and appreciation of cultural differences within each community and across ICF.

In a recent talking circle gathering, our First Nations & Indigenous Peoples employee community network discussed the origin of the word "powwow" and the different styles of powwow dances. Our vice president of diversity and inclusion, Demola Sholagbade, sat down with Bull Bennett, hazard mitigation expert and one of the network’s co-leaders, to chat about the event and how it’s just one example of how we’re living our company value of “embracing differences.”

Demola: Tell us about the talking circles hosted by our First Nations & Indigenous Peoples employee community network.

Bull: Our talking circles are for everyone. Their purpose is to shed light on contemporary issues faced by native communities and provide a safe environment for our colleagues to ask questions and learn from the diverse cultures we bring to ICF.

Demola: When planning the talking circle for Indigenous Peoples Day, what did you hope participants would take away from the event?

Bull: This particular talking circle was focused on the history and purpose of powwows in our indigenous cultures. We wanted to illuminate a deeper understanding of the purpose of these cultural events and to alleviate anxieties and encourage our colleagues to attend powwows with a better understanding of what they’re participating in.

Demola: What was your inspiration behind the theme of powwows?

Bull: Powwows are an integral part of who we are as indigenous people. So much of our culture is expressed through our dance, regalia, and ceremony. We chose this topic as a gateway to exploring different areas of our cultural representation—as much of who we are is expressed during these cultural events. Powwows provide a broad lens into indigenous cultures and the ways we celebrate who we are as indigenous peoples.

Demola: What were some of the ways that employees shared their own cultural/tribal heritages?

Bull: From our guest speakers to our audience members, participants shared individual perspectives and lived experiences, which added depth to the diverse context we were trying to explore during the session.

Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua (Raspberry Star Woman) Williams, a member of our multicultural communications team who was born and raised on the Shinnecock Reservation, demonstrated the Eastern Blanket Dance to highlight a PowWow dance style from her area. Lisa Ojibway, who is Anishinaabe from the Ojibwe Nation and works within our early education services line of business, shared about how each Tribe is different with different languages, cultures, designs, and dance styles. She highlighted the major dance styles and categories from powwows in her area, including the jingle dress which stems from the Ojibwe people. Sandra Maxwell, one of our hazard mitigation experts and part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, shared how powwows are part of her family’s traditions. Mariah Lima, who is Mescalero-Chiricahua Apache, and a climate change and sustainability expert, talked about diversity in powwow regalia.

Demola: Why do you feel events like these important to our indigenous people at ICF? And also for all of our employees?

Bull: Our employee community networks are focused on bringing the diverse and value-added benefits of adding cultural perspectives to our work. We’re encouraged to bring our best, most authentic selves to ICF. Our First Nations & Indigenous Peoples network is another way for our indigenous employees to do just that. These events are important so everyone at ICF can gain a deeper, more profound understanding of indigenous cultures and why our contributions help makes ICF so successful.

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