Powwow a way to preserve past

Tradition: Organizers say the Native American celebration teaches non-Indians about the culture.

July 16, 2000|By Dahlia Naqib | Dahlia Naqib,SUN STAFF

The Native American "fancy dance" represents the youth and stamina of teen-age boys, which explains the dancers' showy costumes - the wing-like projections off their backs and their eye-catching Mohawks.

The "warrior dance" serves as storytelling for Native American warriors, who celebrate and relate their victories to the rest of the tribe with certain movements. They make sure never to move in a circle or turn completely around because a circle represents perfection, and Native Americans must always be aware of human imperfection.

These dances were just a few aspects of Native American culture being taught this weekend at the eighth annual Native American Festival and Pow-Wow at the Howard County Fairgrounds.

Despite yesterday's rain, hundreds of visitors from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia flocked to the fairgrounds to shop for dream-catchers and moccasins at a mall of Native American crafts. They also came to sit and watch the dancers, who, with their flashy costumes, swayed hypnotically to the earthy beats and songs of the drummers.

This year marks the seventh year that Hagerstown resident Kay Tuttle has attended the event. She is not a Native American, but she enjoys their culture.

"The music and dancing is just so relaxing," said Tuttle, who picked up a pair of $12 moccasins for her soon-to-be-born grandson and a $4 handmade beaded barrette for her granddaughter. The products are beautiful and the prices are reasonable, she said.

The event offers the opportunity for visitors to sample buffalo stew or American Indian tacos, similar to other tacos but served on fried bread.

The dancers and musicians came from different East Coast tribes.

Seventeen-year-old dancer Bobby Hurt, a Baltimore native, is of the Lumbee tribe. He recognized his Native American heritage at 14 and started dancing at the Baltimore American Indian Center, where he met others his age. He now tours with the powwow as it travels the East Coast.

These powwows introduce non-Indians to Native American culture and also help unify American Indians by keeping their culture alive, said Keith Colston, master of ceremonies and director of the cultural program at the Baltimore American Indian Center.

Pennsylvania resident Michele Spotted Elk, a Rosebud Sioux, said she is thankful for powwows because they educate non-Indians.

"It's amazing how much people don't know" about us, Spotted Elk said. "Some people ask me if I still live in a teepee."

Most Native American live in houses and lead conventional lives, so they depend on tradition and not lifestyle to retain their culture, Colston said.

That's why Spotted Elk brings her children to powwows - to help them understand their heritage.

Barry Richardson, a member of the Lumbee tribe, started Pow-Wow Inc. 15 years ago because he saw a lack of American Indian news and culture in the mainstream media and felt the need to educate others.

"Our culture, like other cultures, faces a lot of challenges because we're in a melting pot," said Richardson, the owner and promoter of Pow-Wow Inc., which funds the powwow.

Vast changes in Native American life don't imply a weaker link to the past, Colston said.

"You'll see people with plastic tassels or something modern like that, but [while] the materials have changed, our traditions and the purpose behind them stay the same," Colston said. "We're not a dying race, and this powwow proves it."

The powwow continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children ages 3 to 12.

Information: 410-442-1022.

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