AUSTIN (KXAN) — Native American history in Austin has been documented for years now. The history spans generations, leading to modern-day tribes who celebrate their culture in their own grand ways.
One of these celebrations is the Austin Powwow, hosted by the Great Promise for American Indians. The powwow includes a variety of events such as traditional dances, singing performances, food and craft vendors and more. This year, their Native American Heritage Month celebration was replaced by a fundraiser and socially-distanced dance performance.
Nan Blassingame is the program director for Great Promise for American Indians and an avid fashion designer. She’s an Oklahoma native and part of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
According to Franck Cordes, a curator at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, Native Americans have been in the Central Texas area for at least 16,000 years.
“Just 40 miles north of Austin, evidence in the form of stone tools have been found that date back to 16,000 years ago. Over thousands of years diverse communities and cultures emerged, and vast trade routes developed between them,” Cordes said.
Blassingame has a love for fashion. She was the first in her tribe to have her work featured at New York Fashion Week in September 2019. She has made traditional clothing for the Austin Powwow since the early 2000s.
The Bullock Museum houses a display of Blassingame’s work, including her son’s first beadwork and some of her dress designs, one being a traditional jingle dress.
Jingle is a type of dance performed by natives and the name comes from the “jingle” of the cones that are hand-sewn onto the dress. Each dress usually has hundreds of cones on it, which, when worn by a dancer, are said to mimic the sound of rainfall.
“I take a gown, and I put a native touch on it. I can make my traditional dance outfits, and then I can do fashion that kind of spins off of the tradition,” she said.
One of Blassingame’s dresses displayed at the Bullock brings awareness to #MMIW, or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
“More Native American women go missing than any other race, and we can’t get help from anybody. So normally, it’s just the families going out and looking for their family member, and whoever can join them for a search team,” Blassingame said. “The Bullock asked me for a red dress, but I couldn’t just make a red dress because how will anyone know what it stands for?”
According to Blassingame, red is the color that the spirits see most out of any color, so Native American people put a red handprint on their faces in times of need, and that is the symbolism of the red dress. Because of this, Blassingame’s jingle dress has two red handprints on the yoke area, with the words “Missing Murdered Indigenous Women” embroidered on the belt and “MMIW” on the back.
The Bullock Museum hosts events to celebrate Native American history, including a virtual event for American Indian Heritage Day on Sept. 25. They also have an interactive Texas History Timeline on the history of American Indians in Texas.