For 37 years, the Nanticoke Indian Association has been holding an annual powwow, welcoming the community to attend and learn about Nanticoke history.
“To the average layman, they would probably think of it as a festival. It’s actually a gathering of Native Americans exhibiting their wares, and dancing and singing,” explained Sterling Street, coordinator for the Nanticoke Indian Museum. “It’s a reuniting of Indian people while also exhibiting our culture to the public.”
This year, the powwow will be held on Sept. 6 and 7 at the powwow grounds east of Millsboro, near the museum.
The grounds will open at 10 a.m. on Sept. 6, with Grand Entry at noon. A second dance session will be held at 4 p.m., with the grounds closing for the day at 7 p.m. On Sept. 7, the Worship Service will begin at 10 a.m., with Grand Entry at 1 p.m. Dancing, storytelling and more will be held throughout that afternoon before the grounds close at 5 p.m.
All-day parking, including admission, costs $10 per car, while walk-in admission costs $3 for adults and $3 for children. Parking and admission costs $5 for motorcycles or $25 for buses plus $3 for each person on the bus, with the driver needing to collect the fee for each person on the bus.
Street said many visitors enjoy attending to watch the various dances performed, including the shawl dance.
“It’s all ladies who do the dance. The women make their shawls, which represent the winged creatures of the earth. They are an honored part of us, and the feathers are also important to our culture,” he explained. “Birds are the closest thing to the Creator — that’s why we honor them. We know the birds travel the four corners of the earth. We are a people who honor the four directions.”
The men’s grass dance has tribe members dancing in long, fringed regalia, which Street said is meant to imitate the grass.
“From the early days, they said the grass dancers were the ones that went out on the prairie where they were going to have a ceremony and they would go and stomp the grass down. That’s where the grass dance originated.”
The fancy dance is performed by both men and women, who wear feathered and colorful regalia.
“They dance very fast — it’s a modern dance with very quick steps,” he said. “A lot of people really like to watch them because they crouch down and they jump up, and turn around really fast. With all their regalia on, it’s very pretty and colorful.”
Another dance that will be performed is the round dance, a social dance.
“It’s the most popular. It comes from the earlier friendship dances. It’s open — anyone, including visitors, are allowed to participate.”
Authentic Native American food and wares will be available for purchase.
“We have approximately 40 vendors from all across the United States selling their wares, from turquoise and silver to leather handmade bags. We have vendors from all over the United States that come. We even have a couple of vendors from Ecuador who are Ecuadorian Indians,” said Street.
The powwow offers a chance to get a taste of Native American foods, as well.
“We have traditional fry bread, Indian tacos and succotash. We have many other foods, too, but those are the traditional Indian foods.”
Street said that, last year, approximately 12,000 people attended the two-day powwow.
“Everybody we talk to thinks it’s great,” he said. “It’s a reuniting of family and friends, but it’s also a spiritual time for us all. From the dances to our Sunday church service, it’s time for us to thank the Creator for blessing us through the whole year, and also asking the Creator to bless those who have passed during the year, that have gone to the great beyond.”
Many return to the powwow year after year, but Street said they hope to draw first-timers, too, to help educate and expose them to the history of the Nanticoke people.
“We hope people will realize our history and the plight of the Native Americans that has been going on throughout the years… We hope to bring awareness,” he said. “Even they might have some Native American blood in them, if their families were here in the early 1700s. We’re still here, and we are very special people.”
The powwow grounds are located at 26800 John J. Williams Highway (Route 24), in the middle of a wooded area about 8 miles east of Millsboro. Signs will be posted along Route 24 between Routes 113 and 1.