Circle of culture: Adamstown Powwow tribute to Native American community

By on August 31, 2016
A scene from Saturday’s Adamstown Powwow

A scene from Saturday’s Adamstown Powwow

Many Cocalico residents, dominated by the Pennsylvania German culture, may be confused by a powwow event.

It’s a gathering organized by Native Americans for socializing, dancing, singing, celebrating, healing.

Some say there aren’t any “natives” anymore, and isn’t it “just for veterans” and why veterans?

The Adamstown Powwow gathered in Reinholds on Aug. 27 for its biggest turnout in years.

“Every year we’re seeing it grow, but at same time, we’re trying to keep it intimate,” said John Ironhorse, the leader of the event. “We don’t want it to become this huge venue where it’s not personal so that’s why we still keep the area somewhat compact so that we have that family feeling.”

The natives, “mixed-blood” like most of us, are warm people. One gets the feeling something deep is inside, making them seemingly unshaken. It can seem unsettling to the average American.

“We all consider ourselves each other’s brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles,” said Ironhorse. “Most of us have camped here. We all take care of each other’s children. Whoever they’re with isn’t necessarily a blood relation because we work together.”

How do they trust each other when they typical American kid isn’t allowed past their front yard and don’t know their neighbors?

“Our spirituality, our ‘religious beliefs’,” said Ironhorse. “We don’t have a word for ‘religion’ in our language because for us, it’s no different than our life: it’s a circle. I follow my traditional native American beliefs, that’s my spirituality.”

There are more than 500 “nations” for the Natives, but they all believe in a “supreme being.”

“For my people, it’s ‘great mystery’ or ‘grandfather’,” said Ironhorse. “For us, that supreme being is both male and female but also neither because it’s all one, it’s all around us. A blade of grass, a tree, any animal all has a soul because it’s all nature.”

Ironhorse has blue eyes and is part German, Irish, and Lakota.

“Unfortunately, what happened, Hollywood gave a perception of what a Native American should look like,” said Ironhorse. “The problem was, what they were using were mainly Italian actors, so everybody pictured in their minds what a native should look like, which is actually an Italian.”

It seems some people gravitate toward the modern Natives because they will be accepted, able to fit in, because if “you accept the circle, you can belong in the circle.”

Maybe this is why there seems a mix of people and why veterans, once looked on with despise, gravitated toward Natives and powwows.

“That’s something we’ve developed in to,” said Ironhorse. “Powwowing goes back thousands of years, It’s a social event. It’s just as time evolved, it’s become more like what you see now, but we’ve always had respect for our warriors. Our warriors today are our veterans, so that’s why you’ll see the POW/MIA flag. We honor and respect our warriors.”

By day, Ironhorse is the head of a private security company.

The prayer dances of the Powwow are a cirque de soleil to the senses-color, movement, sound, symbolism are not in moderation. Some dancers were dressed in 20-pound regalia even with the heat in the low 90s.

Mark Rose used to perform on stage and legally changed his Pennsylvania German last name to “Rose.”

Rose was raised in York and said his parents do not acknowledge the Native American. He explained the change in attire for the native and proved ‘fringe’ wasn’t invented by hippies.

“Before the white man came in and introduced fabric, some of the materials we had were buckskins and leathers,” said Rose. “The fringe was meant to be practical. You get a hole in something, you take a piece of fringe to the hole and sew it to patch it up. Christianity came and introduced fabric as well as modesty.”

“The early Christians preached modesty and complained that the women need to cover up. They were embarrassed,” said Rose.

“Even when I was little, I always had a heart for the native. If you respect the circle, you’re welcome in the circle.”

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at

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