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Abenaki celebrate first Moultonboro pow wow

Joseph Walks-With-Wolves Fay of Laconia emphasizes the end of a song. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
June 17, 2009
MOULTONBORO — The grounds at Castle in the Clouds were alive with the sound of drums and the energy of dancers as the Abenaki Pow Wow came to Moultonboro.

Visitors and members of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki people were welcomed to the pow wow by Cowasuck Chief and President Paul Pouliot. People gathered around a circle in the center of the pow wow, where the dancers moved. In the center of the circle, under the shade of a tent, three drumming circles kept the beat.

"I carry the wampum," said Pouliot, holding it up for people to see, before hanging it in the center of the circle. "It is meant to unify our people. When we hang this belt, it means the pow wow has started."

The pow wow moved to Castle in the Clouds from its previous location in Sanbornton. Pouliot said that the decision was made last year, after the Cowasuck Band met with some Castle representatives and fell in love with the site, grassy fields atop a mountain, with a view of Lake Winnipesaukee.

The Cowasuck Band, Pouliot explained, means "the people of the white pines." Though the people of the Cowasuck were spread out over the country at one point, he said, they were "joined by one council fire," which burned outside the circle, at one end of the field.

Giving an explanation for each song at the beginning, Pouliot and the drum circles began the traditional opening songs, sung in the Abenaki language. The drumbeats and chorus of voices began the grand entrance of dancers, who circled the drummers, led by Senior Tribal Judge Patriarch of the Grand and Elders Council "Grandfather Maple" Rene Blanchette.

Pouliot introduced each song, explaining to visitors the history of each song and dance. Drummers sang the flag song to honor "the land and the creator for allowing us to be here," and the veteran's song, honoring those who had died in peace, and those who had died in warfare. A final dance in the opening ceremonies was for all relations that "are here and have gone on before us."

Dancers also took up the education of visitors. Softwalker, a dancer from Center Ossipee, brought a friend in to dance with her around the circle.

"Women hold the blankets over our left arms to indicate if we have children," said Softwalker, indicating the blankets that she and several other women carried in the dance. "People understand a lot when you explain. They've got so many questions, and they find out their own heritage. You don't have to have blood. Lots of people have the sense and the spirit."

For several of the dancers there, this wasn't their first experience at a pow wow, nor were they the first dancers in their family. Joseph Walks-With-Wolves Fay of Laconia has been dancing at pow wows for 12 years, after starting out in Florida with the Seminole Tribe.

Cyrus Greene, 11, of Templeton, Mass., grew up with dancers in his family. With a bright white costume with lots of yarn fringe to emphasize his movements, he tried to vary his movements and move in different dances at each song.

"I've been doing this since I was a little squirt, three or four years old, at least," said Greene. "It's very difficult, you just have to hold onto it. My costume weighs about 60 pounds. My grandmother used to wear a jingle dress that weighed 200 pounds on her shoulders, and she had to jump up and down."

Set up around the dancing circle were vendors, invited by the Cowasuck Band to the event, offering a variety of Native American arts and crafts. Vendors sold rows of feathery dream catchers, coyote purses, beaded bracelets, woven ponchos, wampum, baskets, herbs, and wolf and deer skins.

Working on his craft in front of visitors, Rich Broken Arrow of Winchester chipped away at bits of obsidian to create arrowheads and knives. His hands bore the marks of his trade - obsidian is sharp, and cuts back at the person trying to carve it.

"There's a certain way to do it," said Broken Arrow. "You have to get the flat parts off, and create shoulders. It typically takes 20-25 minutes, if I'm working at it. There's nothing in the world sharper than obsidian."

More information about the Cowasuck Band and their gatherings can be found at http://www.cowasuck.org/.

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