NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 20, 2013

Drumming, dancing highlight Summer Moon Pow-Wow

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — People talk about Native Americans as if they only lived in history.

“Ninety-five percent of reports about Native Americans on the three major news channels are about the past,” said Claudia Fox Tree, a member of the Arawak tribe. “What a powwow does is show you we’re present, a contemporary people with traditional ways.”

For anyone curious about Native American culture — past, present and future — the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness is hosting its annual Summer Moon Pow-Wow today and tomorrow at Endicott Park in Danvers.

Food and crafts will be featured, along with drumming and singing by the Iron River Singers of southeastern Massachusetts and Urban Thunder of Greater Boston, among others.

“The first song out is always given to the veterans,” Fox Tree said. “Then, the dancing begins.”

The Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers of Cape Cod will perform regional dances, including a blanket dance, stomp dance and duck dance.

“Powwows are a social event; they do social dances,” Fox Tree said. “You don’t have to be native to do them.”

But at the same time, these performances often include a spiritual element.

“As singers sing words into the spirit world, dancers dance on the back of the Mother Earth,” Fox Tree said. “So they’re massaging the prayers into the Earth, and the drum is beating those wishes into the world — the drum is the heartbeat of the Earth, and it connects all of our hearts.”

A master of ceremonies will translate song lyrics and narrate dances and let people know when programs and activities are beginning. He will also describe the regalia and identify the tribal membership of Native Americans as they arrive at the powwow in a “grand entry.”

“There’s no way to know, but powwows can have thousands of people over a weekend,” Fox Tree said, and they can feature tribes from all over the country.

Shared, intertribal dancing is a unique feature of Eastern powwows, Fox Tree said.

“In other parts of the country, where there are huge nations, they have stricter rules,” she said. “These are open and social.”

In addition to performances, there will be several demonstrations, including the raising of a tepee, which visitors will be invited to enter.

Kerri Helme, a Mashpee Wampanoag, will spend the day making a cooking pot, using clay she gathered from a cliff on a beach in Manomet.

“I sift it with a sifting basket I wove from cedar bark, to get out all the impurities, like wood and bigger stones,” she said. “Then, I add the temper — crushed shell — and add water moisture back in and build up the pot in the coil method.”

The temper distributes heat and keeps the pot from exploding when it is fired in a pit with burning brush, after drying in the sun for several months.

“People will stream in while I’m working, so I explain the process, the history behind it and the tools I’m using,” said Helme, who supervises the Wampanoag program at Plimoth Plantation.

The number of powwows is steadily increasing, and Helme attends one almost every weekend during the summer, she said.

“Non-native people are developing more of an interest in it,” she said. “Our traditional way is encouraged now in our generation, where it may not have been the case with our grandparents.”

Fox Tree has a master’s degree in education and will host a workshop focusing on how Native Americans are depicted in language.

“I have words printed on laminated cards,” she said. “There are problematic words relating to the culture, and things that are not problematic, that we’re proud of. Third, there are names we’re called.”

The point is to get people thinking about myths and stereotypes concerning Native Americans.

“It isn’t a history lesson,” she said. “(We look at) some of the key concepts embedded in language, because language is one of the few things we can control.”

People often follow these sessions with questions, which Fox Tree is happy to answer.

“Some folks want to know the basics, while others want much more detailed information,” she said.

Storytelling, Native American games and plenty of Native American dishes will be available at the powwow, along with eco-friendly crafts demonstrations.

“It’s a great time for all ages,” Fox Tree said, “and the food is great.”

IF YOU GO

What: Summer Moon Pow-Wow

When: Today and tomorrow, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Endicott Park, 57 Forest St. (off Route 62), Danvers

Admission: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children ages 4 to 12. Free parking. Native dancers in regalia admitted free. No dogs allowed.

More information: 617-642-1683 or mcnaa@aol.com