Culture of the powwow

Annual American Indian event in Howard County draws 2,000


Tony Hurt danced at his first powwow about seven years ago. Then, he was a 15-year-old bundle of nerves, dancing with dozens of others, unsure and unsteady, he said.

Yesterday, at the 14th annual Howard County Pow-Wow, he danced again - a whirl of yellow and pink in his American Indian regalia - stepping to the beat and low-pitched singing of a drumming circle.

He said it felt like freedom.

"It's basically showing off to get everyone's attention, and that's why I like it," said Hurt, who turns 22 tomorrow. "And there aren't a lot of rules; as long as you stay on beat, you can do what you want."

His dance of choice is called fancy, a style that originated in Oklahoma in 1920 to show the stamina and strength of young men. For Hurt, who lives in Baltimore's O'Donnell Heights, showing stamina means spinning, moving as fast as possible, and most importantly, not falling.

"I'm not the best dancer; I just try not to pass out," he said. "If the dancers are equal, then it comes down to whoever has the nicest outfit."

Hurt, who said he is a Lumbee Indian, wore white Angora leggings that represent the horse; bells to help him stay on beat; a yellow shirt with a matching pink, yellow and orange yoke on top; and an apron-like bridge cloth on the bottom.

A spray of yellow, purple and red chicken feathers, made up the double bustle he wore on his back.

In American Indian culture, dancing is a form of prayer, and performers at the event at the Howard County fairgrounds also danced the traditional, grass and round styles, among others.

They were backed by the high-pitched singing of a northern-style drumming circle and the low-pitched singing of the southern-style drumming circle.

Hurt said he learned traditional dancing and singing at the Baltimore American Indian Center, after growing up not knowing much about his heritage.

For Patricia Barr, 65, of Randallstown, the powwow was a chance to learn about an important tradition in American Indian culture.

"They start on beat, they end on beat, and if they drop anything they are disqualified," she said. "The grass dancers are among the most agile, and often the women dance a little slower, it seems."

During a break, dozens camped out in the shade of a cluster of trees and dined on traditional fare such as Indian tacos, buffalo (burgers) and fry bread.

Vendors' wares included sold wooden pipes, feathered dream catchers and woven baskets.

Pam Clark, 54, of Frederick, said she has attended the event for several years, and has always been interested in American Indian culture.

"I like to support indigenous tribes and give back," she said as she ate fry bread topped with strawberries and whipped cream. "I always meet nice people, there is always great jewelry, and the dancing is fantastic."

Clark's purchases also included a sterling silver turquoise ring.

Sponsored by Native Opportunity Way, a community development organization based in Halifax, N.C., the two-day event drew about 2,000 people, according to organizers.

Barry Richardson, who heads the group, said the powwow has attracted a steady following over the years. The powwow is not only a way for American Indian people to get together but also a way to share the culture with others, he said.

"More people know about Native American culture than they used to, but there's always a need to make sure people keep learning," he said. "When people take something home that they've learned, even if it's small, that's how I know it's something that has worked."

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