On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 and 8, the Nanticoke Indian Association will hold its 36th Annual Powwow.
“We’ve been having the powwow for years,” said Chief William Daisey. “It originally started as basically a homecoming, and it still is. It’s a continuation of our heritage. We didn’t want to forget where we came from and what it’s all about. It has evolved now to include the general public and to help make them aware that we still exist, and give them an opportunity to learn more about our culture.”
Some simple rules and guidelines for powwow
The following are some of the guidelines Nanticoke powwow organizers offered for powwow etiquette, though they noted that etiquette varies from tribe to tribe:
• Always ask permission before taking pictures of any dancers, drum groups or ceremonies.
• Pay attention to the master of ceremonies. He will inform you of any special instructions during ceremonies and songs. He will also announce dances and dancers during competitions.
• Dress appropriately.
• When special songs, such as the Flag Song or Honor Song, are played, it is customary to stand and remove your hat. Refrain from taking photos or recording during this time.
• As an attendee, do not enter the dance area unless invited. This area is considered sacred.
• Seating is limited at many powwows; check to see if is appropriate to bring lawn chairs and/or blankets (the Nanticoke powwow encourages it).
• Remember that benches or seats in the arena are for dancers. It is customary for dancers to place a blanket on the bench where they will be seated.
• Do not pick up anything dropped by a dancer, especially feathers.
• Remember that powwows are alcohol- and drug-free events.
If you have any questions about etiquette or procedures, organizers said, check with the emcee, arena director or head singer.
Admission is included with the powwow parking fee. All-day parking costs $10 per car and $5 for motorcycles. Walk-in admission costs $2 for adults and $1 for children. Buses pay $25 for parking, plus $2 per person on the bus, with the driver collecting the fee for each bus.
The powwow grounds are located on Route 24, between Routes 1 and 113. Signage along the roadway will direct powwow attendees to the parking area.
Handicapped parking and access is offered at the powwow. Attendees who are wheelchair-bound or have motorized wheelchairs will enter the powwow grounds on Mount Joy Road and will be directed to the identified parking area, where unloading and access to seating is convenient.
Unless otherwise directed, handicapped attendees who normally use the general powwow parking area will continue to do so if they are able to load their wheelchair and ride the tram to the powwow grounds. Special seating for those handicapped individuals will be available.
The powwow grounds will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with the Grand Entry at noon. The second dance session will begin at 4 p.m., with the grounds closing around 7 p.m.
“The Grand Entry is when chiefs, council people, dancers, flag bearers come into the circle. That starts the program,” Daisey explained. “It’s a golden opportunity to experience some of the things we’re involved in. It’s a family-oriented event — we don’t allow drugs and things of that nature.”
Daisey said that, last year, more than 30,000 people attended the powwow, from all over the country, and he expects a similar turnout this year. He added that more than 40 visiting tribes will be attending, as well.
“A large percentage of them are our own people, because they’re coming home. But some are traveling miles and miles to participate. You take a day to renew old friendships and talk with their natives, and nourish their souls.”
Daisey said that one of the most popular powwow activities is watching the traditional dances, such as the Shawl Dance and the Fancy Dance. The dancers perform in a large circle while the emcee explains the dances and, in between the dancing, tells stories.
“The dances all have meaning; it’s not just a name. Try to see most of them. There are different varieties. The Fancy Dance thrills a lot of people because there are young guys there and they do some nice things,” he said, adding that he recommends visitors see the Round Dance.
“You go ’round and ’round, dancing the way Native Americans do. You don’t have to worry about making missteps. Basically, you go ’round and ’round, like its name. It’s a friendship dance. Everyone grabs hands and dances within a circle in the ring.”
Daisey said that, while the dances are a fun and beautiful part of the culture, he no longer participates in many of them.
“Not many of them. I’m getting too old for them. Maybe one or two of them,” he said with a laugh. “We have young people participating. They are interested in their heritage, and want to know where they came from and what it’s all about.”
Along with watching the dances and hearing the stories, various food and craft vendors will be at the powwow, selling authentic goods.
“You’ll have the opportunity to purchase various Native American jewelry and various other items the vendors are selling,” said Daisey. “Fry bread is a popular dish. Then, of course, you have your Indian tacos, but fry bread is most popular. Everybody loves it. It’s a little different than what we had when I was a child, but the modifications have enticed people to try it more. The ones they sell now have powdered sugar! I’d recommend you try that one.”
Although the powwow has only existed for 36 years, the tradition of gathering together has been practiced for generations.
“I’ve been participating since I was a child,” said Daisey. “When it originally started, it was dangerous to be identified as a Native American. The State of Delaware at one time tried to wipe out all Native Americans in the state. Because of that, we kept a low profile. When things began to change, became safer, we began to answer questions the public asked and we proceeded to answer those questions as best we could. Before, we had to keep a low profile; that aspect has changed drastically. Now we invite everyone.”
Daisey said he remembers the segregation, and even when the country didn’t want to recognize Native Americans.
“On the Census report when I was a child, the Census-takers were instructed to indicate that there were no Native Americans in Delaware. Some folks believed that. It was not good. Everything was segregated. But that has changed.”
Daisey said that, today, the community support surrounding the association and the powwow is extremely positive, and he hopes it continues.
“It has been wonderful. It should’ve happened years ago. It’s an exhilarating feeling to know it has changed to that degree. It’s something I never thought would happen when I was a child. It’s a good feeling,” he said.
“We’re all Americans, and we need to act like Americans. This is a good country, but it has to live up to its promises. When it does, it can be a beautiful thing — democracy,” he continued. “It has been very good.
“We have folks involved in helping with the powwow who are non-native. That never would have happened in the past. The community has been very supportive. They help in various ways, with donations or sponsorships, or things of that nature. It has been a good relationship; let’s hope it continues.”
Although the powwow is a perfect embodiment of that change, Daisey said the most important aspect of it is to teach the younger generation about their heritage and the history — good and bad.
“It’s important for us to do that, because those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. We were not ashamed of our culture and wanted to pass this knowledge on to the younger generation, so they don’t forget of what their forefathers went through and what their heritage is. Most people are curious of their heritage, and it is important. You can build on the past and can learn from the past.
“Mistakes do happen,” he acknowledged. “It’s fortunate that society is changing, and that’s a good thing, People are working together more now and are treating people as people. We don’t want the younger generation to forget that. We try to inform them what transpired. They’ll ask, ‘Why was it difficult in the old days?’ ‘Why aren’t many people aware that we exist’ — things of that nature. They’re curious.”
Daisey said the powwow is a wonderful family-friendly event that can help those both young and old learn a little bit more about the history of Native Americans, and enjoy the beauty of their culture and heritage.
“I invite you to come and join us and get a feeling for it. Listen to the heartbeat of the drums and the music and, hopefully, you’ll learn something about our culture. It’s a learning experience for those who aren’t familiar with it, and carry that knowledge home with you.”
The Powwow Grounds are located in the middle of a wooded area off John J. Williams Highway (Route 24), approximately 8 miles east of Millsboro. Signs will be posted along John J. Williams Highway between Routes 113 and 1.
For more information, call the Nanticoke Indian Association at (302) 945-3400 or visit www.naticokeindians.org.