Skip to main content

Spring Pow Wow: Honoring the Water

April 24, 2024

SESP's Alivia Britton (left) and Mel McDaniel of the School of Communication are the 2024 co-chairs for Northwestern’s third annual student-run Pow Wow.

School of Education and Social Policy undergraduate Alivia Britton is co-chair of Northwestern University’s annual student-run Spring Pow Wow, an intergenerational cultural celebration sponsored by the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance.

The family-friendly event on April 27, organized around the theme “honoring the water,” is a space for everyone–both Native and non-Native–to gather to dance, eat, socialize, share art, be in community, and more.

“From summers at local public pools to swimming in Lake Michigan, I’ve always been around water, and I’m grateful for the chance to reflect on my relationship with it,” said Britton, who is studying social policy, Native American and Indigenous studies, and on track to earn an accelerated master’s degree in teaching. 

“I had a hard time adjusting to Northwestern but always found comfort walking to the lake,” she said. “I hope people strive to be in good relations with water and recognize the peace it can bring to us.”

Britton, a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and part Potawatomi, has always had an uneasy relationship with her Native identity. Her father is Native American; she was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., by a single mother who is not.

  • The Pow Wow is April 27, 11 a.m. (grand entry at noon) to 5 p.m. at Welsh Ryan Arena.
  • RSVP for an April 25 webinar to learn about Pow Wow protocol and etiquette.

“Growing up, I wanted to know more, but I felt this weird sense of not wanting to ask my mom questions because I didn’t want to offend her for not being able to fully answer,” she said. “I also always felt too white in Native spaces, so I was very hesitant to engage with the community.”

That changed when one of her peer advisors, School of Education and Social Policy alumna Isabella Twocrow (BS23) encouraged her to connect with the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance. Britton ended up volunteering for the inaugural student Pow Wow in 2022, which was co-chaired by School of Education and Social Policy alumna Isabel St. Arnold and won a Wildcat Excellence Award. 

After St. Arnold graduated, Britton and Mel McDaniel of the School of Communication stepped in; for the last two years they have served as co-chairs, overseeing the planning of the collaborative event. Britton also worked for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, supporting programming during Native American Heritage Month, and helped with the development of the Native American and Indigenous Strategic Plan, which will be launched at the Pow Wow,  and special Indigenous-centered initiatives.

In January, Britton was named to the Wildcat Welcome Board of Directors, part of Northwestern’s Office of Student Transition Experiences. She selects and mentors the 2024 peer advisors and oversees a group of 22. 

“We both came in as freshmen with complicated relationships to our Native identities and were able to strengthen that connection and learn together throughout the years,” said McDaniel, a member of the Maidu tribe. “Alivia is an incredible friend and partner who’s always thinking ahead to future generations and the sustainability of the Pow Wow.”

Another meaningful part Britton’s undergraduate experience involved working as a research assistant with School of Education and Social Policy professor Megan Bang’s Indigenous STEAM and Learning in Places projects. There she analyzed data and learned about the value of community and relationships during summer camps. Bang, professor of learning sciences, is the director of Northwestern’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. 

“I’ve always have felt in tune to relationship building and that helped me understand why,” Britton said. “It’s in my blood to be so in community with people.”

While Britton will walk during commencement in the spring, her bachelor’s degree will be officially conferred in the fall after a summer studying abroad. She’ll begin her master’s in elementary education in 2025 and hopes that as a teacher, she can create better learning environments for all students. Later, she plans to move into the policy arena to create change on a larger scale.

“I really only learned the language I needed to talk about my identity since coming to Northwestern,” she said. “The student alliance helped me build very meaningful relationships and begin to understand what it means to be Native.”