January 1, 2000 Issue 29 - Special Edition
Pow Wow!!! A Non-Native's Experience
A strong feeling stirred deep within me; tears surfaced in my eyes. What could raise such strong emotions? It wasn't a birth, a wedding, or a funeral. It was something that I never envisioned could touch me so deeply.
It was a pow wow, held on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina, Memorial Day weekend.
But why? What had moved me so strongly? I am still unable to answer that question. It may be a single answer. It may be a combination of things. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, touching, awesome experience that I will never forget.
I did not know what to expect when we first arrived, but the Cherokee people made me feel right at home. They were extremely hospitable and welcoming to my family and myself, as they were towards everyone there -- Natives and non-Natives alike. As we entered the grounds all the beautiful native crafts and the pride on the crafter's faces amazed us. As the pow wow was about to begin, we took our seats. No one could have prepared me for what I was about to witness: the grand entry!
"Wow!" was my first reaction as participants entered the sacred circle, dancing to the beat of the drum--flag and staff bearers, veterans, royalty, dancers, adults, teens, children, infants -- all adorned with feathers, colors, jingles and symbols. The first day the dancers displayed their magnificent talents. The next day they performed in friendly competition.
Awed, I sat through it all, engulfed in wonder with a deep sense of respect for everyone there. But what made me feel that way?
Maybe it was that drumming that made me feel like all life was living within one heartbeat.
Maybe it was Native American eyes shining with pride in their heritage.
Maybe it was the Cherokee's willingness to welcome non-Natives into their traditions, encouraging us to dance. They showed great respect for all veterans during this Memorial Day. They spoke and sang songs in the Cherokee language. They wore the colors and symbols of their ancestors and performed the old dances with renewed passions. And the children, so willing to learn and participate, were included in these activities.
Maybe it was the craftsmanship of the regalia adorned with elaborate bead, cloth, jingle, and feather work. Every outfit, be it on an elder or a child, was strikingly and breathtakingly beautiful.
Maybe it was the respect Natives have for their culture. I felt like a member of a large, caring, peaceful family.
Maybe it was hearing the pain of injustice, past and present, expressed in their songs and dances.
Maybe its my shame for non-Natives who envision only the Native American stereotype, because those same people have never experienced Native cultures for themselves.
Maybe this powwow moved me so deeply because my husband's maternal ancestors were Native Americans, and this experience helps me understand his family's passion for their ancestors and their heritage.
Maybe it was my 7-month-old son's delighted attempt to dance with everyone. The entire time, all he wanted to do was dance. The drum stirs something within even the very young.
Maybe it was a call to pass on to our son the traditions and cultures of his heritage.
Maybe it was a call for me to look inside myself, at my own heritage, and the things I do, to find meaning and traditions in our everyday life.
Or, maybe I'll never know.
What I do know is this: I will always be grateful to the Cherokee People for awakening these feelings inside me, and for the examples they set at the pow wow. I regret that more non-Natives did not attend this extraordinary event. During these troubled times, maybe we all need more opportunities to look within our souls
Thank you to everyone who read my words. I hope my experience will influence other non-Natives to attend Native events, show more respect for Native cultures, and reach deeper within your own souls while searching for answers.
A special thank you goes out to the Cherokee Nation.