Nansemonds celebrate, hope for land

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lewis Campbell, a member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe, dances during the Nansemond Indian powwow on Saturday. The 24th annual event continues today and includes cultural displays and a presentation on Mattanock Town, a museum and tribal center the tribe hopes to build on the land. The event continues Sunday. For a story on the powwow, visit

The Nansemond Indian Tribe began its two-day powwow Saturday under a threatening sky.

The clouds obligingly held back the rain for most of the day, giving spectators a clear view of the dancers in a variety of traditional garb, making their way around the dance circle to the beat of the drums and voices of the singers.

The 24th annual event continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Grand entry of the dancers is at 1 p.m.

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A hand drum contest was held, and displays were set up to teach newcomers about tribal crafts, food and culture. An entire tent was dedicated to educating locals about Mattanock Town, the authentic Indian village with a museum, displays and attractions the tribe hopes to build.

The City Council voted 21 months ago to transfer the parcel of ancestral land to the tribe, but the deed has not yet been signed.

“It’s been a good turnout,” said Chief Barry Bass, who has been ill. “For me, it’s been the best medicine I could have had.”

Hundreds of people come each year to the powwow. Nansemonds come from all across the country for their version of a family reunion. Members of other Indian tribes from throughout the region come to help their counterparts celebrate. Others come just to take in the culture.

“This is to honor my ancestors,” Bass said. “All the stuff they did to survive so I could be here.”

Other members of the tribe agreed.

“We are one, for we are one,” said Lea Dowd, the genealogist for the tribe. Both of her parents have tribal ancestry. “This is family, and this is home.”

Curtis “Silver Fox” Smith, who is Cherokee by blood, comes every year to support the tribe. His wife was Nansemond, and since Indians trace their lineage through women, that means he is an adopted member of the Nansemond tribe.

“This used to be their territory, so that’s why this is so important,” Smith said.

The members of the tribe hope it will be their territory again, one day soon.

To reach the powwow, turn off Godwin Boulevard onto Pembroke Lane, directly across from Oakland Elementary School.