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Winter Powwow brings Native American community together



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Dancers wear their regalia and dance at Plymouth State University’s Foley Gymnasium for the second annual winter Veterans Powwow. (Ashley Finethy) (click for larger version)
February 22, 2012
HOLDERNESS — On Saturday, Feb. 18, the New Hampshire Intertribal Native American Council (NHINAC), in conjunction with Plymouth State University's (PSU) Diversity Fellows, hosted a powwow in Foley Gymnasium on the PSU campus.

This is the second year the NHINAC has held its Veterans Powwow at PSU.

"We were looking for something do to last year — the PSU Diversity Fellows were looking for an event to do — and I kind of pulled this up as an idea, and we just ran with it," said Diversity Fellows Member Elizabeth Montmagny. "We pulled it together iN about two months last year; it was crazy. It is definitely more organized this year, and we have had about a year to plan it, which is great."

Having a powwow in the winter, especially in the Plymouth area, has been a long time coming for the NHINAC.

"We've been trying to get a powwow in this year for a long time," said NHINAC Chief Peter Newell. "Last year was our first year we did it, and there were a lot of people here. There is basically no really good winter powwow in this area, so people needed a powwow to go to in the wintertime."

With about 1,000 people coming through the doors last year, the event was highly anticipated this year.

"Last year, this went very well, and all year, people have been talking about it," said event MC Paul Newell. "We hope this will be a bigger event, but we don't really worry about it being bigger, but we try to make it better every year."

This year's powwow consisted of six different drums, flute players, dancing, vendors, contests and storytelling duo The Laughing Couple. With so many different events under one roof, powwows tend to harbor a different meaning for different people.

"A powwow is kind of like a party, and sometimes, there are ceremonies," said Montmagney. "A lot of people, when they are singing or dancing or drumming, see it as their form of prayer. It could be the equivalent to church. It depends on the person because it has a different meaning for everyone."

For many of powwow attendees, the event was a chance to get together with friends and family.

"I come here to see everybody, " said Montmagney. "We have a little community going on, and we have powwows going on all summer, but in the winter this is really special because they don't happen as often. So when you get to see everybody again, it's like a big reunion. It's great."

This powwow was also a time to honor veterans in the community. The day usually begins with a Grand Entry Ceremony, where dancers dance to songs to honor the flag and veterans.

"We have them all come into the circle to dance so we can honor them," said Peter Newell. "This is basically a veterans' powwow, so we will get a lot of them here. In the Indian community, there are a lot of veterans, and we are one of the only groups that, when we get together like this, honor the flag and the veterans. We do this at every powwow."

At the powwow, three major types of music were represented, and played a key role in dancing and honoring the veterans.

"We have three styles of music," said Peter Newell. "They are all very different. Most people are used to hearing the really high pitched singing, and this is a northern style song. The southern style is almost on the other side of the spectrum. It's a lot lower, and it's a really pretty style of music. Then eastern music is even different from the other two."

A drum isn't just the actual instrument, but consists of the chairs, the musicians and the singers surrounding it.

"We call them drums," pointed out Paul Newell. "There is basically a big drum in the middle, and the men sit around the drum, and if they have women singers with them, they stand behind the men. We call them drums. We don't call them orchestras or bands, or anything like that."

As drums pound out their respective styles of music, dancers dance clockwise in a circle.

"The native people believe that everything works in circles," said Peter Newell. "You start at one point and you end up going all the way around and going back to the beginning again, and it's a sacred thing. We like to set up the circle, and when the people come in, depending on what tribe you are with, some people come in and go left, or clockwise, which is basically what most of the powwows in this area do."

The circle has many rules that have been passed down from generation to generation, and are still upheld today.

"We come in and go to the right because that's the way the eagle flies," said Peter Newell. "You will see some guys will be going the opposite direction, and these are our veterans, or people honoring our veterans, honoring people that have been killed. They go the opposite way to honor those people."

Though there are different rules and traditions, the NHINAC welcomes everyone to enter the circle and dance.

"We don't make people wear regalia — it's nice to have regalia because that's what everyone comes to see, but being that we are intertribal, we allow whoever wants to come in, to dance," said Peter Newell. "We like to see people come in and try it out and see if they like it. Most people have fun."

With such openness and acceptance, the atmosphere of a powwow feels like one big family.

"All of these people are my family," said Montmagney. "Not necessarily my blood family, but they are all my family."

In this family environment, safety isn't a major concern.

"It's a really safe environment," said Peter Newell. "We really don't worry too much about the kids running around. That's another thing about the native community; we are so close that we all keep an eye on the kids. It's really safe."

Adding to the safety, the honor and integrity of powwows, drugs and alcohol are prohibited from the events, particularly in the circle.

"We are totally no drugs or alcohol, which is important, and we try to make sure that if anybody has been drinking, that they don't get in the circle because that contaminates the circle," said Peter Newell.

Though powwows are important for Native American people, it is also important for everyone to understand how many native people there are throughout New England, and in New Hampshire.

"People don't realize how many native people there are in New Hampshire," said Peter Newell. "There are probably close to 10,000 native people who are card carrying Indians, that belong to a tribe. Then you've probably got another 5,000 or 6,000 people that could qualify, but don't have cards. Then if you talk about people that are partial blood, you're talking another 20,000 to 30,000 people. That's a lot of people."

The powwow attracted many members of the community, and brought culture and diversity to the Plymouth community. Powwows are often quite expensive to host.

"Having a powwow indoors is often costly," said Peter Newell.

To raise funds for the NHINAC, Applebee's in Tilton is hosting a Flapjack Fundraiser on Saturday, March 3 from 8 to 10 a.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact Jenni at 340-3941.

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