Pomfret holds 18th annual Powwow

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Pomfret - posted Tue., Oct. 18, 2011
Theresa Roberto, a Lakota, performs a Fancy Shawl dance. Photos by D. Coffey.
Theresa Roberto, a Lakota, performs a Fancy Shawl dance. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Wolf Den 18th Annual Powwow was held at Wolf Den State Park on Oct 15 and 16.  Native Americans from Blackfoot, Mohawk, Micmac, Ojibwa Chippewa, Sioux and Arawack nations were among the nations represented. The event allowed for socializing, celebrating, feasting and dancing. 

“The powwow is our way of celebrating everything,” said Chief Trueheart of the Overhill Cherokee Nation of the Northeast. He moved through the clearing in his traditional regalia, leggings and shirt of elk skin. His long hair was braided and the ends wrapped in white leather tassels. A choke around his neck was made of beads. Leather moccasins graced his feet. At the center of the clearing was a circle cordoned off in yellow ribbon. In the middle, a small campfire burned. Men beat drums and women sang, as dancers entered the circle to perform a variety of traditional dances.

Some men and women were dressed in ceremonial outfits appropriate to their tribes. There were brightly colored shawls and beaded necklaces, leather shirts with fringe, and beaded, leather belts. Some women carried feather fans. One man wore rings of bells around his ankles. But ceremonial garb was not required. For those who wore them, the outfits had significance beyond color and style. 

“The regalia is very special,” said Laughing Otter, a Blackfoot woman who came in long flowing skirt, tunic shirt gather with a leather belt and a fringed green shawl. Every stitch is made carefully, she said. Every bead is significant.

And every article served a purpose, according to Trueheart.

Breastplates slowed arrows, and heavy leather shirts made it hard for weapons to pierce. Chokers told a person's status, but it also protected the neck from an enemy's knife. Colors and symbols and designs in clothing and jewelry all told stories. The turkey wings that made up fans were sacred to woodland natives, said Laughing Otter. Walking sticks and wooden pendants were carved or painted with animal representations, each one symbolizing different characteristics. Tomahawks were made from stones and bones. Beads were made from animal bones.

We use everything, Trueheart said. If a deer gives its life to us, we use it for food, clothing, shelter. We use its bones for jewelry. Whatever isn't used is buried in the ground and given back to Mother Earth, he said.

Powwows are ceremonial gatherings, but they are also opportunities for teaching age-old traditions. “It's too easy to lose the traditions,” said Willowwind, a descendent of Mohawk and Montagnais. “Powwows are ways to continue to educate people and keep the traditions alive,” she said.

They are also a means of teaching native American history to the people who attend them. Trueheart travels to schools, speaking to children about historical events not covered in most school textbooks. “Columbus didn't discover America,” he said. “Native Americans were here before the time of Christ.” North America is home to 550 different nations, but the U.S. government recognizes only 40, he said.

Trueheart's is a long history, and every decision he makes must take into consideration seven generations to follow. “Seven is a magical number to us,” he said. “There are the four directions, Mother Earth and Father Sky. The creator ties it all together.”

“Our religion covers a lot more than people realize,” Trueheart said. “We don't own the land; we take care of the land. I offer tobacco to Mother Nature for growing the plant. I honor the tree that gives its wood for walking sticks. I honor the deer that gives its life to feed us.”

But honoring is not worshiping, he said. “People don't seem to understand the difference between honor and worship. We honor Mother Earth and Father Sky. We worship the creator.”


Overhill Cherokee Nation of the Northeast, really?

Just a head's up, the Overhill Cherokee Nation of the Northeast is not a recognized Indian tribe. There are only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Cherokee Nation. Meanwhile there are over 200 fraudulent groups posing as Cherokee Indians. For more information on this matter, check out: http://taskforce.cherokee.org/.

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