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Native Americans celebrate their heritage

Wearing beautifully decorated regalia, a young boy performs a dance during the pow wow held on Osgood Road over Labor Day weekend. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
September 09, 2009
SANBORNTON — Voices lifted in song as the rhythmic beat of drums pulsed through the woods of the Dulac Land Trust last weekend for the 39th Annual Labor Day Pow Wow. Sponsored by the Laconia Indian Historical Association, the intertribal powwow had representatives from the Mohawk, Navajo, Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and other New England tribes.

Powwow Chairman Richard LaFlamme said a year of preparation goes into the annual gathering.

"We'll start on next year as soon as this weekend is over," he said. "There's a lot of work that goes into these events."

The weekend began with the Mourners Feast and a candlelight ceremony on Friday evening. Prayers were read by Paul Burke as the gathering honored those who had passed.

On Saturday activities got underway early as people came out to greet both old friends and new. At 9:30 a.m. the elders lead the Grand Entry procession, which was followed by the raising of the American and POW Flags by veterans of the military and a special dance.

"We respect those who serve," LaFlamme said. "Not just in the military but police and firemen, too. Anyone who gives to their country like that."

After these ceremonies each day, young and old entered the Arbor to the beat of the drums and danced in a clockwise circle. Host Drum this year was the Four Winds drumming group who took their place in the center of the Arbor for the weekend. Outside the circle Black Thunder and other drum groups played as well, each taking turns for the Early and Evening Sessions of dance.

Some dancers wore street clothing as they made their way around the circle while others donned their Native American regalia. Woven cloth, feathers, beadwork and animal skins were all skillfully crafted into shirts, long skirts, hats and other clothing.

"Everyone has their own regalia," LaFlamme said. "Most make them themselves from leather, fur, whatever they want according to their tribe."

Everyone is welcome to join in the dancing. Mothers even carried small babies in their arm as they moved to the music while toddlers danced by their sides. There is no set dance for the groups inside the Arbor; they move as they feel the music. Before they dance, some of the participants perform a ritual known as smudging.

"They do smudging to sanctify and cleanse as they prepare to enter the Arbor," he explained. "Some will do it each time, some only do it once a day. It's up to the individual."

Other special features of the weekend were raffles held each evening and an auction on Sunday morning. Proceeds benefited LIHA. The children were not forgotten either. There was a playground erected for them and craft times were held to keep them entertained and educated on Native American crafts. They also enjoy a Candy Dance at the powwows where drums play as they danced around the Arbor. Each time the music stops the children gather candy until the drums begin again.

Some participants chose to attend the daytime activities only but many brought tents, campers and traditional tipi and longhouses to stay the entire weekend. While the tipi and longhouses are no longer made from animal hides, they continue to reflect the history of the American Indian. LaFlamme's brother Bill was camp manager and oversaw more than 150 campsites. He said he has watched children grow up over the years who now bring their families to the powwows. Some of them hold seasonal sites on the property and can enjoy the area off Osgood Road from spring until fall.

"It's a great place to just come and relax and enjoy. There's a sense of peace here," Bill LaFlamme said.

He and his wife maintain a seasonal campsite to oversee the area, complete with a double bed and a cooking tent and a few luxuries to keep their time there comfortable through the summer months.

A dirt lane leading through the campground was lined with vendors of all types. Many, Richard LaFlamme said, come back every year. Everything from Native American clothing and moccasins to earrings, belts, trinkets, artwork and books on the Native American lifestyle were available.

LIHA leases 30 acres of land from the Trust and has established areas such as Tipi Hill, the pond and the Memorial Garden, regarded as Sacred Ground. A cook shack and a few other outbuildings are more permanent features of the small community. A large bell is stationed near the Arbor should an emergency arise.

"If a child gets lost or something happens, you ring that bell and everyone comes running," Bill LaFlamme explained.

A curious black bear visited the community over the weekend and a turkey vulture circled over the Arbor all day on Saturday. The Native American culture honors and respects nature so the presence of wildlife added a special touch to the weekend.

"It's things like that," said Richard LaFlamme, "which bring meaning to all of this. Everything has a reason."

LIHA's Labor Day Pow Wow is believed to be the largest intertribal gathering in the northeast. The public is welcomed and encouraged to join in the many pow Śwows held throughout New England from March until December. A calendar of events can be found at www.lihanews.org.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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