Dances and drums

Published 10:24 pm Saturday, August 20, 2011

A female dancer participates in the festivities at the 23rd annual Nansemond Indian Tribe powwow on Saturday. The cultural celebration continues today in Chuckatuck.

For Nansemond Indian Tribe Chief Barry Bass, all the work of organizing a powwow is worth it once it comes together.

The 60-year-old chief, who goes by the Indian name “Big Buck,” surveyed the gathering on Saturday from beneath a tree at Lone Star Lakes. Hundreds of American Indian descendants as well as the general public converged on the park yesterday, and the festivities continue today.

“This is just such a special place,” Bass said. “It has a feeling of home and spiritual belonging you can’t explain to anybody.”

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The tribe’s Mattanock village was situated on that spot before the arrival of English settlers, according to maps produced by Capt. John Smith during his travels. Three other villages, including one called Nansemond, were further down the river that now bears the tribe’s name.

Historically, powwows were like family reunions for the American Indians. These days, that’s only part of their purpose. They also serve to educate those outside the tribe about the culture.

“In olden days, because of ignorance, they were fearful of us,” said Terry Paliwoda, a member of the Nansemond tribe who travels every year from Houston, Texas, to attend. The tradition of powwows was resurrected in the last century to help educate others.

Many of the Nansemond tribe’s 300 or so members were at the powwow, as well as plenty of representatives from other tribes. Nearly every Virginia tribe, including the Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Rappahannock and more, was in attendance. In addition, tribes from North Carolina and Maryland also were there.

“It’s good for each of the tribes to support the other local tribes,” said Upper Mattaponi Chief Ken Adams. “I go to a lot of powwows. It takes a lot of time and commitment, but it’s worthwhile.”

The powwow’s main attraction is the dancing, which is led by professional Indian dancers. Members of the public are sometimes invited to join in.

“That’s how we get close to God, through dance,” said Paliwoda, who goes by the Indian name “Badger Who Walks With Lightning.”

Also, attendees at the Nansemond powwow have the chance to support American Indian crafters by purchasing their wares, as well as learn more about the culture and how the modern-day tribes can be supported.

Adams was at the event representing VITAL, the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life. It’s an effort to get federal recognition for six Virginia tribes, including the Nansemond.

There was also talk throughout the day of the Nansemond’s effort to get the deed from the city to the same piece of property where the event took place. City Council has approved the idea, but the details still are being worked out.

Bass hopes the 2012 powwow next August will be held on his tribe’s own land.

“This is where my heart is,” he said. “It’s very special.”

The event continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Grand entry of the dancers is at 1 p.m. There is no admission charge, but donations are accepted to help cover the cost of the powwow. The location is on Pembroke Lane, which is located off Godwin Boulevard directly across from Oakland Elementary School.