History, culture pervade powwow
Numerous dancers, a storyteller and a drummer took part in the festivities.
By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
COITSVILLE -- For two days, Willow Ranch on South Hubbard Road was converted to a sea of tents and was the site of numerous pieces of merchandise, a 20-foot-high tepee and a sense of connection.
Traditional American Indian music, dancing and food also filled the grounds.
Close to 2,000 people attended the two-day 10th annual American Indian powwow. It was hosted by the Red Hawk American Indian Cultural Society, a group of area Indians and non-natives who provide education regarding Indian arts, crafts, lifestyles and other issues.
The event was set up to promote and share Indian culture in the Mahoning Valley, explained Darlene Bosela, Red Hawk's president.
Those who attended were treated to about 60 Indian dancers from several tribes as well as stories by storyteller Dolores Santha of Florissant, Mo., who came to the Mahoning Valley from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan after finishing Indian School in the mid-1930s. Also on tap was Bird Chopper of the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation, who served as host drummer.
Perfect weather greeted visitors who came Sunday to any of about 20 vendors selling Indian wares that included crafts, beads, rattles, drums, blankets, handmade clothing and supplies. Also on display were Indian jewelry, artifacts, necklaces and breastplates, which are made of bones and were formerly used like body armor to protect from a hatchet or knife attack during battle. They're commonly worn as ornaments or part of dance outfits.
Performances included jingle dancers who make jingles from rolled metal tobacco can lids. The dance "releases prayers to the creator" and is often requested for someone who is sick, Bosella explained.
Tobacco is an important herb to many Indians, who often use it to replace something pulled from the ground, she added.
"They leave something for the next generation," Bosella said.
Many visitors took advantage of a menu that featured Indian fry bread, a staple with most meals, a variety of tacos, mixed berries and Buffalo burgers.
People also had the opportunity to walk inside the tepee, which had a fire pit in the center and a smoke hole at the top. The first step in building one is to tie together with rope three poles and form a tripod, said Wanda Kover, a Red Hawk trustee.
"It's quick and easy if you know what you're doing," said Kover, who lived for two years in a tepee in West Farmington.
She explained that a well-built tepee is aerodynamic and fuel efficient, and is designed to withstand high winds. The process, along with the canvas many are built with, allows people to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, she noted.
"I ran around in my shorts," Kover said, referring to a day with a minus-35 wind-chill factor.
Kover said several misconceptions about Indian culture still exist, such as the idea they were hunters and gatherers who rarely stayed in one place. Most were "established for thousands of years" before 1492, something rarely taught in American history, she said.
Another incorrect assumption, she continued, is that Indians are homogenous in most respects. There are about 500 American Indian nations, each with its own language, culture and beliefs, Kover pointed out.
Kover said that powwows evolved over hundreds of years and are similar to family get-togethers and festivals. It's a misconception to think of them strictly in a religious context, she said.
"They're not a religious service," Kover said. "A religious gathering and ceremony is not open to the public."