Native American festival a celebration of culture


August 26, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Marty Richardson is worried about losing his Haliwa-Saponi ++ heritage, which is why he listens a little less to rap and a little more to Native American music these days, and why for the last 10 of his 14 years he has dressed in Indian clothes and danced to the beat of a ceremonial drum.

"It's fun and I want to preserve my culture," he said. "It means a lot because we're fading, marrying into other races."

Richardson, who lives in Catonsville, was joined by dancers from all over the country in Baltimore over the weekend for the 17th annual American Indian Pow Wow at Festival Hall.

"This, to the Native American community, is the World Series," said Gerald Butler, chairman of the Baltimore American Indian Center, which sponsored the weekend of dance and drum contests, crafts sales and socializing.

He estimated that more than 14,000 dancers, crafts dealers and spectators had come for the weekend, some from as far as Canada and Mexico. He predicted the event would turn a profit of about $10,000 for the Indian center to devote to its local social service and cultural programs.

"We feel this is the best way we can bring Indians from Indian reservations together with what we call 'urban Indians,' " such as those in Baltimore, said Butler, an urban Lumbee from Fells Point.

Most of Baltimore's Native Americans, who are predominantly Lumbee from North Carolina, trace their arrival here to migrations in the 1940s when they came looking for work in the big city.

For urban Indian children, especially, "the only Indians they see are on television," Butler said. And there, "if you see an Indian, he's either chasing a white man or being chased by a white man," he said. "There's no role model."

None, unless urban Indians can get together at Festival Hall with men such as Ira Makeshimfirst, 28, an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Baltimore seemed strange to Makeshimfirst, filled with white people and black people, whom he rarely sees back home.

He travels around the country for dance contests in a headdress that is a bristling mop of brown eagle feathers. Ermine and elk skin adorn his cape. Eagle feather bustles -- one at the nape of his neck, the other at the small of his back -- bounce with his every move.

His face is fully covered with paint, solid black down the middle and framed by white on each side, but he said the design wasn't his idea.

"The spirits painted my face," Makeshimfirst said, explaining that a medicine man had called them and they had daubed him during a healing ceremony.

"The spirits had a hand on top of my head," he recalled. "I was reaching around, but I didn't feel anything."

The black represents the "thunder people," and the white, "a new beginning," he said. "That's the way I am supposed to be protected. That's how the spirits see me. If I dressed in ordinary clothes, they wouldn't recognize me."

Makeshimfirst has been dancing almost since he could walk, but doesn't really think of what he's doing while moving to the drum and cries of the drummers.

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