The Nanticoke Indian Association will celebrate years of tradition and heritage once again this weekend, at their 30th Annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow in Millsboro.
“It’s a great pride to our people,” said Gene Norwood, whose family has been active in the assembly and organization of the tribe for centuries.
Norwood’s late grandmother, Patience Harmon, served as secretary for the tribe during most of her years. In 1881, the Nanticoke Indians gained state recognition. “Tribes were letting people know who they were,” said Norwood. The Nanticoke community in Millsboro comprises roughly 1,000 tribal members — the largest concentration of the tribe on the eastern shore of Delmarva.
Numbers in attendance for the annual powwow have steadily climbed over the years and Norwood estimates that this year could see between 10,000 and 20,000 over the course of the weekend, with more than 40 tribes represented, as well as non-tribal spectators.
The first contact with the Nanticoke tribe dates back to 1608, when Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay. Smith described the Nanticoke as “the best merchants of all.” Their location in along Maryland’s eastern shore helped coin the term Nanticoke, which directly translates to “people of the tidewaters.”
After a failed attempt to restrict alcohol sales on reservations, and roughly a century of conflict with outside tribes and Maryland colonists, the Nanticoke spread out. Some moved towards the Oklahoma Territories, and some dug out canoes and chose to head north along the Susquehanna River. The majority, however, moved eastward, settling in Indian River Hundred, near the Indian River, and today, it is where the densest concentration of Nanticoke tribe members is found.
“We get a lot of support from volunteers,” said Norwood, “people from churches, different organizations, and from the tribe. We’ll have anywhere between 200 and 300 people working this weekend. It’s really great to give host to all of those in attendance.”
Growing up, Norwood said she would frequently hear tales of powwows that took place in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Traditions of story-telling, singing and dancing pass through generations, entertaining and educating the newest members of the tribe. Heritage is taught through performance as dancers move in time with the beat of the drum.
“My grandmother told me about them when I was a girl,” Norwood said. “It was a dream of mine to have the powwows return.”
Then, 30 years ago, that dream came true, as the First Annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow was held in Millsboro. “From what I was told growing up, the powwows today are a great representation of what took place [roughly 80 years ago].”
Norwood has enjoyed the event immensely each year but admitted that it can be tiring. “We’ll dance all afternoon, until we can’t go on anymore,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun for everyone.”
This year, the event will run on Saturday, Sept. 8, from noon until 7 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 9, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The festivities will kick off on Saturday with a grand entry dance session.
The event will be held on the tribal-owned grounds in Millsboro, located at 27073 John J. Williams Highway, at the Nanticoke Indian Center. Guest drums are provided by Red Blanket, Red Wolf Singers and others, while tribe members Keith Anderson and Adrienne Harmon will lead the dances.
A worship service will be held on Sunday at 10 a.m. with a dance session at 1:30 p.m. Admission costs $8 for cars and $5 for motorcycles for all-day parking, and $2 for walk-ins.
Vendors will be set up at the powwow, offering original and authentic native arts and crafts, including jewelry, pottery, moccasins, ribbon shirts, shawls, dream catchers and paintings. For more information, call (302) 945-7022.