Powwow focuses on teaching about Native Americans

Culture: Nearly 800 people attend the Four Bay Winds Native American Gathering in Havre de Grace.

October 17, 2004|By Emeri B. O'Brien | Emeri B. O'Brien,SUN STAFF

While others fanned away the smoke as the fire was lit at the second Four Bay Winds Native American Gathering, Mary White beckoned the spirit of her great- great-grandfather, who was of the Cherokee nation, to come to her.

Although the wind blew ferociously, the fire at the center of the arena didn't die. Some there said the ancestors kept it burning.

Nearly 800 people gathered in the grassy field behind the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace at the Lock House to experience the spirit of Native American culture yesterday.

"We are hoping that they learn something about native tradition," said the Rev. Amy "Blessing Bird" Paul, the organizer. "People are beginning to realize that those roots are still there, and it's up to them to rediscover them and start doing something with them."

The gathering is an educational project, community outreach event and fund-raiser for the Upper Chesapeake Council of Good Medicine Society. The society is a state-incorporated religious organization and a branch of the internationally recognized Good Medicine Society Inc.

"Our church is a mixture group," Paul said. "I have some who walk the total red road, the Cherokee way, the Christian way, and some who are in the pink side of things."

Paul said proceeds from the two-day event, which concludes at 6 p.m. today, will be used to help Native Americans in the region with everything from clothing to housing.

She said the name for the gathering came to her after visiting the site for the event. "This wind came around like a whirlwind, and I was like maybe we should name it the four winds," she said. The name was later changed to the Four Bay Winds in honor of the Chesapeake Bay.

Twenty vendors sold jewelry, clothing and food at the powwow. Not all were from the Chesapeake Bay area. Tery Powell, 44, came from Charleston, W.Va., to sell her homemade jewelry and clothes. Her father is Shawnee, and her mother Irish.

She displayed a buffalo hide shirt for $250 and told her story to those who came up to her booth. By noon, the shirt remained. As Powell took breaks from her booth, she surveyed the area and noticed that she was one of the few "Natives" there. "The more powwows that I go to, I am finding that there are less and less actual Indians there," Powell said.

Rick Svehla is not Native American, but he embraces the culture just the same.

"For some reason, the good Lord decided to bring me back as a white person on the outside and a red person on the inside, and it's very frustrating," Svehla said. "I am like part of the rainbow tribe as they call it."

The Edgewood resident said there is no place he'd rather be than a powwow.

"It felt like home. It was like where I belong," he said. "I go to every one I can."

It's people like Svehla who make Running Deer, who is half Cherokee and half Choctaw, smile.

"When we teach others who we are, they are not afraid of us," said Running Deer, the chief of a Cherokee tribe in Richmond, Va. "When you are not afraid of something, you don't learn to hate it."

Her adoptive grandchildren, Mariana "Little Feather" Lamas, 6, and her brother, Santiago "Little Wolf" Lamas, 4, are of the Sioux nation.

As the drums pounded rhythmically like a heartbeat, Mariana and Santiago marched behind their elders into the circular arena for dancing and ceremony as part of the grand entry in Havre de Grace.

Later, Mariana sat upon her grandmother's lap and sang a song written by young Indian children to show love and respect for her elders.

Running Deer said she and her grandchildren symbolized the purpose of the gathering in Havre de Grace.

"It brings back the teaching of our elders. We believe the children are the future of our past," Running Deer said. "If we don't teach our children, when we die, our past is dead with us."

As dancers stomped in the background in honor of fallen veterans, Running Deer sat in her booth and taught Santiago a lesson about the earth. She used her Native tradition to correct Santiago when he felt the urge to pick up a stick and whack a nearby tree.

"Santiago," Running Deer said. "Do you want the tree to come back and hit you?"

The pint-sized child clad in brown regalia looked up at Running Deer and shook his head gingerly.

"Then don't hurt the tree spirit," Running Deer said.

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