The rich heritage of the Nanticoke will be celebrated at the tribe’s 42nd annual Powwow next month.
Situated in a natural setting, on the powwow grounds at 26800 John J. Williams Highway (Route 24) in Millsboro, the event attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people every year, including members of 40 Native American tribes from around the nation.
The Powwow will run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7, with Grand Entry at noon. The second dance session will be at 4 p.m. that day. On Sunday, Sept. 8, hours will be 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a 10 a.m. worship service and 1 p.m. Grand Entry.
Crafts and food vendors, selling items including jewelry, corn on the cob, succotash, fry bread, Indian tacos, hotdogs and hamburgers, will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday and at noon on Sunday.
Admission costs $5 per person, and is free for children 12 or younger. There is no charge for parking. Those attending are being encouraged to take lawn chairs, as seating is generally provided only for dancers.
Guests in wheelchairs, or who use motorized wheelchairs, will enter on Mount Joy Road and be directed to the parking area where unloading and access to seating is convenient. Call (302) 945-3400 or see email@example.com for more information.
Every powwow begins with a Grand Entry, or procession of dancers who bring together the tribes. Dancers enter the dance circle by age and style of regalia, and are guided by two lead dancers, a male and a female, who follow the presentation of flags. Similar to the national anthem, the Flag Song is the Native American way of honoring traditional native, state and American flags. The audience is expected to stand during the Flag Song.
The word “powwow” is from the Narragansett Eastern Algonquian language and means any gathering of native people, but, “in Indian Country, we define it as a cultural event that features group singing and dancing by men, women and children,” according to the Nanticoke Indian Association. “Above all, powwows are a time to preserve traditions, to sing to the creator and to dance to the heartbeat of the drum.
“Through these gatherings, cultural traditions are passed from generation to generation. Skilled Native American artisans travel across the country to attend various powwows to display and sell their handmade goods. It is a welcome opportunity to visit with friends and relatives, renew acquaintances and trade or sell native arts and crafts, including jewelry, pottery, moccasins, ribbon shirts, shawls, dreamcatchers and paintings,” they said.
There are two singing styles, Northern and Southern. In Northern style, singers maintain a higher pitch, whereas Southern style singers keep a lower key. The largest song category is War Dance. These songs provide a constant drumbeat, but drummers accent certain beats at specific points on the song. The accented beats are called “honor beats.”
“Watch how the dancers react to the honor beats of the drum according to their style of dance and regalia. Drummers and singers respond to the enthusiasm of the dancers. Powwow music is a vital, artistic part of the powwow celebration. As you leave the powwow grounds, you may hear the beating of the drum for several miles down the road.”
“Native dances originated from the spirit and soul of our nations. Native American dance is alive and dynamic, a reflection of tribal heritage and personal style. The graceful steps of the dancers, the beat to which they move, and the traditional regalia that they wear embody their tribal affiliation and ancestry.
“As you listen to the drum and watch the dancers, please also take note of the powwow master of ceremonies. The powwow emcee has the important responsibility of guiding the dancers and spectators, as well as keeping the program moving. He is fully aware of the powwow program and etiquette. Explaining various traditions, the emcee helps spectators understand the program while encouraging the dancers and drummers.
“He may even add humor to the event by sharing Native American jokes or stories. An emcee who is experienced serves as the glue that holds the powwow together. Emcees are assisted by the arena director, whose responsibility is to organize the dancers and maintain the dance arena or circle.”
The Great Spirit is held in high esteem by many Native Americans, as expressed in this prayer, known as the “Indian’s 23rd Psalm,” according to the Nanticoke tribe’s website at www.nanticokeindians.org:
Great Spirit, whose tepee is the sky and whose hunting ground is the earth; Mights and fearful are you called. Ruler over storms, over men and birds and beasts: Have your way over all — over earthways as over skyways, Find us this day our meat and corn, that we may be strong and brave. And put aside from us our wicked ways as we put aside the bad works of them who do us wrong.
And let us not have such troubles as lead us into crooked roads. But keep us from all evil, For yours is all that is — the earth and the sky: the streams, the hills, and the valleys, the stars, the moon and the sun and all that live and breathe.
Wonderful, shining mighty Spirit!
On the website, there’s also an explanation of why American Indians have powwows, written by Shianna Colon. Now a teenager, it was composed when she was 9.
“Powwows help our people come together and remember that it is our job to keep our heritage alive. … In the afternoon we have a dance session. That is when all dancers gather in a circle and dance our dances.
“We tell the stories of how each regalia came to be. Dances are Jingle, Traditional, Women’s Fancy, Hoop, Men’s Fancy and many more. Some of these dances such as, Traditional are slower than maybe, Jingle or Fancy.
“Hoop dancing is done very fast as you dance with the hoops. There is one dance called the Eagle Dance. You dance gracefully just as if you were an eagle. You flap your wings and start to dance. People make eagle noises too. Jingle and Fancy are dances that require maybe a tad bit more time to learn than traditional. Each jingle for the Jingle dress represents a prayer,” Colon explained.
“Remember we Indians would never be remembered by what we live for if we did not have this powwow yearly. I hope to see the Nanticoke Indian Powwow,” Colon wrote.
By Susan Canfora