Powwow rhythms unite native souls

Gathering: Music, dance and customs draw those with American Indian blood or interest to a celebration of culture at the Howard County Fairgrounds.

METRO News from around the Baltimore region

July 18, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

It was still an hour before the drums would start beating a rhythm, before the men and women would gather in a circle, their voices raised in the haunting chants of traditional Native American music.

William Warwick sat in a chair in the sweltering heat of a barn at the Howard County Fairgrounds with a feather bustle in his lap. The 25-year-old Baltimorean was in his street duds and listening to the music of OutKast and Evanescence, but within moments he would transform himself, putting on colorful garb more fitting of his Lumbee-Cheraw Indian ancestry and preparing for the dancing to come.

"We dance for ourselves, for people who are not here, too," said Warwick, a machine operator and surveyor. "We just dance from our heart."

At the Howard County Pow-Wow in West Friendship, booths of jewelry and clothing and crafts beckoned to those who braved the hot, soupy day. But it was the music and dancing that drew the crowd.

Visitors, some claiming their own American Indian ancestry, filled the chairs set up indoors. Some stood and tapped their feet, practicing the shuffling step of the dancers who slowly arced their way around the room to a pounding drumbeat.

Kimberly Swecker of Ellicott City tried to get her 6-year-old daughter, Erin, to tap her feet, but the little girl would have none of it.

"When we get home, that's what she'll be doing," said Erin's grandmother, Judy Johnston, who was visiting from Topsail Island, N.C.

The idea of the weekend is to show folks, all politics aside, the richness of the American Indian culture, said Keith Colston. He was master of ceremonies at the demonstrations and is cultural director for the Baltimore American Indian Center.

"More than anything else, there's a breakdown of stereotypes," said Colston, who is of Tuscarora and Lumbee heritage. "Here, they get the facts."

Not only is a powwow a good way to teach others, it can be a social event for those with Native American blood, said Howard County Pow-Wow organizer Barry Richardson, who coordinates six such events a year along the East Coast. The annual Howard event usually draws 2,500 to 3,000 people over two days, he said.

It can even be a reunion of sorts for those who are not Native American.

John Hoffman spent more than a quarter-century teaching about Native American cultures before retiring from Howard County's Mount Hebron High School in 1999. Yesterday, he ran into two former students: Andrea Belice, Mount Hebron Class of 1985, and Joell Springer, Class of 1989.

"He's what inspired us, the love for this," said Belice, a stay-at-home mother from Elkridge, nodding toward Hoffman.

For her part, Pat Long wanted to talk to someone who shared her ancestry, and she stopped Richardson to ask about others with Cherokee blood.

"I'm not full-blooded, but I believe in their beliefs and way of thinking," said Long, a 65-year-old Glen Burnie resident. "I have a lot of respect for them, what they've been through and how they came through."

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