Powwow raises funds with fun

Heritage: Native Americans share their culture and raise money for reservations at a celebration in Pennsylvania.

May 02, 2004|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DELTA, Pa. -- The Harford Native American community has joined others from as far as South America to celebrate spring with a powwow here that, in part, is serving as a fund-raiser for poverty-stricken reservations.

More than 30 dancers and artisans are displaying their crafts and sharing their heritages with several thousand people this weekend at the first Intertribal Benefit Powwow at the Mason-Dixon Fairgrounds here, just over the Maryland border.

"I'm going to get feathers to decorate my hair," said Ivie Hart, a Darlington 4-year-old of Apache descent. Hart, attending her first powwow yesterday, participated in a snake dance, one of several traditional dances being taught to the public.

"Powwow" means "gathering." It is derived from the Algonquian word pauwau, which referred to gatherings of healers or medicine men. Over the years, the concept evolved, and powwows are now a public festival that celebrates the circle of life, which is marked by spring.

"After the long winter, it gives us a chance to get out and be reacquainted with our brothers and sisters," Teresa Smith, a Lancaster, Pa., woman of Cherokee descent, said after joining in a dance yesterday.

For her and her husband, Roy, who is of Shawnee descent, the powwow brings them "closer to their creator," she said.

For Bill Burkins, 23, of Delta it was a chance to reconnect with his Cherokee heritage.

"Listening to this [the music], it's a `chills down your spine' kind of thing," he said. "I'm proud of who we are."

For Nancy Bobbitt, Ivie Hart's grandmother, the powwow was educational.

"I mean you see this stuff on TV, but you don't really understand until you see it," she said.

Powwows also honor veterans, politicians and other important tribal figures. Tribal members participate in sacred and social dances and songs. Drums -- daylong and steady thumping -- play an integral role.

"They symbolize the heartbeat of the earth," said Grammy Award nominee Joseph Fire Crow, a Cheyenne wood flutist from Connecticut who performed.

Cardiff resident Donna Dorn organized the event for sentimental, educational and philanthropic reasons.

Dorn and her husband, David, own Collectors Kingdom in Cardiff, a shop that sells collectibles and Native American art. Last year, the couple opened the Native American Culture Center within the shop as a community resource.

She and her husband are part Cherokee. But Dorn, 49, said she didn't learn that she was part Cherokee until she was an adult. Her mother was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, but ran away from the reservation at 13. She hid her heritage to escape discrimination, Dorn said.

After her mother's death more than a decade ago, Dorn began to trace her roots -- an elusive job for most Native Americans because much of the history is oral or is lost because tribes have been scattered across the country.

Last year, Dorn and her husband traveled the country to attend powwows and visit reservations. She was struck by the poverty of two reservations, Pine Ridge in South Dakota and Zuni in New Mexico.

Census figures show that the national average poverty rate for Native Americans between 1999 and 2001 was 24.5 percent, with an estimated 800,000 American Indians and Alaskan Natives living in poverty.

A few small powwows are held in Cecil and Harford counties each year, where about 800 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives live, census figures show. But last year, after Dorn learned that an Elkton powwow had been permanently canceled, she "tried to fill a void," she said, by organizing one.

The proceeds of this weekend's event will pay the expenses of some of the dancers, drummers and artisans. The rest will be sent to Pine Ridge and Zuni, Dorn said.

"If I don't break even, then after I catch up, I'll be sending them money straight out of my pocket," she said.

The powwow continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at the Mason-Dixon Fairgrounds on Route 74 in Delta. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children. Children under 9 are free.

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