Feeling the spirits
Popular local powwow transcends ethnic lines
A powwow is typically a gathering of Native American tribes to come together for dancing and singing and a way to preserve the rich heritage of American Indians.
Last Saturday at the powwow in Adamstown, true Native Americans were few in number. Many of the dancers, singers, musicians and vendors are “adopted” Native American. They have a love for the culture, and surprisingly, a few dozen Vietnam Veterans were active participants in the event which made up the majority.
The reason for the veterans’ pull to powwows is due to the respect Native Americans have for them. The first dance was a tribute to all veterans of all wars. They did it to honor and thank our service men and women and asked us to celebrate the heroes who fought for our freedom.
“A lot have no heritage at all, but it’s in their heart,” said Diane Hummingbird, lead female dancer, minister, and masseuse. “They are helping us to preserve the culture and to bring it back to teach each other about Native American life. We’re from all over and we become like family — even with the vendors because we see them at every event.”
Hummingbird is German by descent, and Lenni Lenape (original people of the mid-Atlantic area) by adoption.
She performs marriage ceremonies with her co-minister, Elkspirit Bass, the male head dancer, carpenter by trade, and “gigolo.” Bass is well-known and respected in the powwow community.
“I’ve lived in 46 of the 50 states,” said Bass.
When asked where his home is, he said: “Three hundred miles that way there’s a big puddle of water and about 2,500 miles that way there’s another puddle of water. Turtle Island is my home.”
He’s a registered Cherokee but comes from English, Irish, and Welsh descent. He considers himself a Christian but this is his “way of life.”
“It’s a cultural thing,” said Bass. “Except when I go to work, I have to wear work clothes, but that does not change my heart.”
Bass held a burning “smudge stick” the size and appearance of a large cigar. Inside is sage, cedar ,and sweet grass rolled with yarrow.
“For us it has always been what we use to give a pleasing aroma back to the creator,” said Bass. “We always give everything back. That’s why you see everything we do is in a circle. Everything starts with him and it goes back to him. We dance in a circle, and life is in a circle. Since we use this as a sacred herb, we use it to align ourselves and be one with creation, one with the creator.”
Bass was asked how he felt in Lancaster County which some say is a Christian melting pot.
“I was raised with the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” said Bass. “But when God made man, he didn’t pull him out of thin air, he came down to Mother Earth and from the womb of Mother Earth, he made man. Jesus used this (referring to the smoking stick).
“He used many things today that many Christians are unaware of. Cedar is an evergreen. It never goes to sleep. In the wintertime, it is our understanding that God set something aside to always symbolize life. Cedar is a sacred wood because it never, never fades. It stays green year round. That is a representation to us to live our life faithfully, sun up, sun down, summer, winter, spring, and fall.”
While Bass was talking, Toomeny Feathers, came up behind him and “air smudged” his entire back with a Prayer Bundle which is filled with tobacco. They look like red sachets and used to say prayers for “spiritual cleanliness” and then throw them into the fire.
“I believe in Christ, but how can I tell God that I love him if I do not honor his creation?” said Bass.
“For example, if you were my wife and this was our son, and I did not respect and honor and love him, then I am not showing you very much love either. So if I say I love God and I do not love and honor his creation, then I am not truly loving him. So we must love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and body. That means I must love our creation-the two-leggers, which is what we are, the one-leggers-the trees, the many-leggers, the winged-ones, the finned-ones. I must truly love them or I am not loving god with all my heart, soul, mind and body.”
There are many diversities in the native world and not everyone believes as he, but they all are faithful, to love and respect each other. The culture is diverse with more than 500 tribes and languages and cultural ways.
At the powwow, there were vendors selling beads, herbal teas, food, books, CDs, antlers, full animal hides, crystals, and just about any trinket with Native American meaning. Many of the performers and followers were dressed in full regalia.
The two people not dressed in regalia were actually the most truly Native American yet “Americanized” in appearance: a doctor and a 9-year-old girl looking to explore a side of herself she does not see as much in Lancaster County.
Dale Brooks is a few generations away from the Seneca tribe from the Allegany Reservation. She’s a vendor who makes and sells shawls and beadwork at events and, at age 72, is also a retired doctor.
“When I was in school, they cut my braids and threw them in a paper box,” said Brooks. “We did not receive religious freedom until 1989. Even though my mother was born here, she did not have American citizenship. We’ve come a long way in learning to accept one another which is a very good thing.”
Her mother did go on to nursing school and Brooks went to the University of Pennsylvania and became a general practitioner. When asked if she worked nontraditional remedies into her practice, she smiled and said, “I decline to answer that.”
Ashlynn Molina was brought by her grandparents, aunt and uncles. She is a fourth-generation descendant from the prominent Mexican Revolutionary General Francisco Villa from a Mexican-Indian tribe. She was holding a goose feather given to her by one of the woman drummers at the event. The woman told her if she had any worries, to tell them to the goose feather at a window, give it a couple shakes and it will disperse out the window all her worries.
“This is in my blood and I just love it,” said Ashlynn Molina.
Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.