20th annual powwow a reunion of culture

August 28, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

As the drums sounded, the procession of American Indian men marched into the arena and began dancing. Women followed in delicate, dignified steps, hands on their hips.

Then the drumbeat quickened, and the dancers spun, their multicolored regalia fluttering with the movement. Each dancer represented a tribe or state.

But the second day of the Baltimore American Indian Center's three-day Powwow was more than a show yesterday at the 5th Regiment Armory, it was a cultural reunion, organizers said.

"This gives us a chance to all come together again," said Archie Lynch, cultural director of the center near Patterson Park.

He said the 20-year-old powwow, previously held at now-demolished Festival Hall, brings Native American culture back to the city, where many people can lose their identity.

"The pressures of everyday life cause you to lose a few things," Mr. Lynch said.

At least 50 tribes from the United States and Canada were represented. About 150 dancers performed and artisans sold pottery, jewelry and other crafts at 48 booths.

Organizers expected 3,000 people by the close of festivities last night.

"There are so many misconceptions about Native people," Mr. Lynch said. "In those old Western movies, you never saw Native Americans smile, tell stories or laugh. They had less human characteristics. This is the time to show off our true culture."

As the dancers moved to the monotonous, but rhythmic drum beats, drummers shouted Native American songs. Their chants, spoken in Native American dialects, could not be understood by many spectators, but that didn't stop Kirk Enders and his wife, Ruth, of Overlea, from appreciating what they were hearing.

"I had no idea what they were saying, but we enjoyed it," Mr. Enders said. "It's neat to see."

Mr. Lynch said the American Indian term powwow once referred to a medicine person or the healing ceremony such a person performed. However, outsiders misinterpreted the ceremony as a festive meeting of several people, a definition which stuck, he said.

"It's a way of life," said Marty Pinnecoose, 37, of Oregon a Ute. "We come together to be part of the [dance] circle. It's a circle of life. It has power, that's what draws people to it."

Mr. Pinnecoose was dressed for the grass dance, an ancient tribal dance in which the stomping movements of the dancers signify the clearing of high grass before a ceremony. Porcupine quills and deer hairs adorned his headdress.

"The dances arouse something in you," said Jameion Hunt, 13, a Lumbee, who performed a traditional dance with others.

The Highlandtown Middle School seventh-grader started learning about his cultural dance two years ago.

"A lot of people fear going back and finding out about their culture because they're afraid they might find something they don't like," he said. "But it's fun to go back."

The powwow, which began Friday, will end today, running from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children and senior citizens.

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