Louis Campbell stood beside his Dodge Neon in the parking lot of the Howard County Fairgrounds yesterday, adjusting a round, bushy headdress made of hawks' feathers.
Nearby, other people reached into their sedans, trucks and SUVs and pulled out colorful shirts, skirts adorned with bells and fringe, beaded moccasins and feather bustles.
They were preparing to take part in Native American dancing at the 11th annual Howard County Pow-Wow, a two-day festival in West Friendship that ended yesterday.
The event - which invites American Indians to celebrate their heritage and exposes the public to tribal customs - also featured shopping, food, face painting and pony rides for children, and a display on traditional Native American life.
"It's fun, and part of my culture," said Campbell, a construction worker from Baltimore who is part of the Lumbee Cherokee tribe. He said he learned to dance at the Baltimore American Indian Center and now competes all over the East Coast. During the weekend, he and dozens of others were competing in Native American dancing and drumming for $10,000 in prizes.
Competitive dancing is a bonding activity for Pernell Richardson, of Mangohick, Va., and his son, Will. They travel to powwows in the Mid-Atlantic together, and Richardson makes all of their costumes.
Will, 12, has been dancing "from about the time he could walk," Richardson said. Will learned to dance from his father, who learned from his father. "Hopefully," Richardson said, [Will] will pass it on to his kids."
The two, who are part of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, also enjoy meeting the other dancers. "Just about every place we go, we are going to see familiar faces," Richardson said. As he looked around at the dancers, he added, "Some, I remember when they were kids."
As for the visitors who might be new to Native American traditions, organizer Barry Richardson said, "People come because they think it's very important to have American Indian culture supported and presented."
A few come for spiritual reasons and a number come with questions about their Native American heritage, he said.
Elizabeth and Larry Sioma of Columbia are interested in genealogy and believe they have Native American ancestry.
"We wanted to introduce our daughter to Native American culture," said Elizabeth Sioma, as 2-year-old Helen watched a 1,650-pound bison named Tecumseh wander inside a fence.
"I want her to be exposed to as many different cultures ... as possible," she said.
Marc Robinson, a truck driver from Clarksville, had a great-great-grandfather who was Cherokee. But the chance for a fun family outing was even more of a motivation.
"It's a nice day," said his wife, Gloria, a security systems analyst. "I was also curious to see what [the festival] was like."
Their son, Myles, 23 months, was awed by the dancers, while Marc Robinson enjoyed shopping for turquoise jewelry.
Vendors at the fairgrounds offered items ranging from framed art to T-shirts.
Allan and Eleanor McCabe drove from Flagstaff, Ariz., with a booth full of silver jewelry, beaded barrettes, and earrings, rugs and other decorative items made by Navajo artists. Eleanor McCabe also ran a food booth, serving buffalo steaks, mutton stew and flat bread.
Other artists were local, such as Christy and Jon Konyar, who brought handmade leather masks, jewelry and clothing from their studio in Ellicott City. She is an administrator with a building company, and he is an engineer. They said they travel to powwows in the mid-Atlantic area several times a year.
The vendors, too, become part of the circuit and get to know other sellers and the dancers. "It becomes a family," Jon Konyar said.
Richardson said he often sees visitors looking around tentatively when they arrive and then leaving with bags full of crafts. "Seeing that makes it worth my while," he said.
"It is a way for people to learn about my culture without my beating them over the head."