Powwow keeps native culture alive

Annual Baltimore American Indian Center event brings visitors from far and wide

August 25, 2008|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Two by two, they danced into a tent wearing elaborate feather headdresses, leather moccasins and bells tied to their ankles or knees. A circle of drummers played and chanted in the corner.

Native Americans from Baltimore and across the country gathered in Patterson Park yesterday for the 34th Annual Powwow put on by the Baltimore American Indian Center. Participants included members of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe from North Carolina, Kiowa from Oklahoma and Lumbee from Baltimore.

The three-day event, which ended yesterday, was designed to spotlight Native American culture. For the Lumbee, it also served as a fundraiser and a way to recognize the small community.

Frieda C. Minner, the center's executive director, said the Lumbees first migrated to Baltimore from North Carolina after World War II. A second wave came in the 1960s, trading farm work in the South for more lucrative jobs in the Baltimore area at places such as Bethlehem Steel and General Motors.

The tight-knit Native American community has grown to about 2,000 in Baltimore, according to census figures. Some Native American advocates say they believe the number is probably higher, because many Native Americans don't participate in the census.

The American Indian Center in Fells Point, started in the back of a church 40 years ago, is the pulse of the community, Minner said. In its early days, it was a place where Native Americans new to the area could learn to adjust to city life.

"Baltimore is a much different place than Robeson, N.C.," she said.

Today the center, in a small building on Broadway, is a place where people can get help navigating government agencies, send their kids to after-school programs and find activities for senior citizens. "The center is like a point of entry for Indians," Minner said.

The center has received funding in recent years to build a multipurpose room and a community garden. It plans to open a museum on the site next year.

At the Powwow, organizers said they hoped people might learn something about native culture.

"People only know what they see on television and movies," said Keith Colston, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs. "This is how we can teach and educate those who don't know us."

Reneice Jacobs Ramsey moved with her parents to Baltimore from North Carolina when she was a little girl. Her father came looking for a better job and got one installing drywall.

Ramsey has worked as a teacher's assistant in Baltimore for 26 years and on the side runs a food stand specializing in Native American fare. Yesterday she cooked fry bread, buffalo stew and Indian tacos at the stand named after her mother, Dosha.

She said the Powwow is a way to keep younger people in tune with their culture.

Yesterday, children were dressed in beaded headbands and colorful dresses with bells. They danced alongside their fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts.

"We want to keep up the customs," Ramsey said. "Especially for the younger generation."

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