Nansemond nation sees record crowds for two-day powwow

Published 6:47 pm Monday, August 22, 2022

After a two-year hiatus, the Nansemond Indian Nation Powwow returned with the largest crowd in the event’s more than 30-year history to enjoy the music, dances, prayers and food.

Nansemond Tribal Chief Keith F. Anderson said Monday that those who are good at estimating crowds believe they exceeded more than 5,000 over the two-day event, held Saturday and Sunday at Mattanock Town, 1001 Pembroke Lane, which runs off Godwin Boulevard across from Oakland Elementary School. There also was excellent participation from tribes across the U.S. and Alaska with more than 50 taking part.

“I’m still on a natural high,” Anderson said. He said the crowd was at or above capacity and parking actually exceeded the allotted space.

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Additionally, the weather for the weekend was nearly perfect, with rain stopping early Saturday before activities started and then not showing up again until after the events ended Sunday.

“We were very blessed,” he said.

Even with the large crowd, he said there was plenty of space for those who wanted to social distance or avoid crowded settings due to COVID-19, which led to the event’s cancellation in 2020 and 2021. To ensure visitors’ safety, he said they made personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves accessible for those wanting it.

The Nansemond tribe received lots of praise from those attending this year’s event, thanking them for bringing the powwow back. Many in the crowd appreciated the explanations that Anderson offered during all the tribal dances and activities, providing them with an understanding of what was taking place and the protocol behind it.

Tribes from across Virginia and North Carolina were joined by those from Florida, many western states and even Alaska. He said there were about 70 dancers and more than 200 from other tribes joining in as drummers or other support roles for the powwow. Many of the Native people also brought their families to enjoy the weekend events.

Those from Native American nations in the western U.S. handed the Nansemond a big compliment because of the great job they did in keeping the educational aspects in place for visitors, Anderson said.

“We’re very elated to hear that,” he said, adding it’s great to know that the east coast tribes are doing well with sharing the story of their people.

Those who missed the August powwow in Suffolk will have another opportunity to attend one close to home as the Nansemond Nation hosts another powwow in Chesapeake Oct. 22 and 23. Anderson said it’s been 10 years since they held one in the neighboring community, noting the nation has strong connections to all the communities around Tidewater.

The Nansemond Indian Nation also is planning a lot of other activities throughout the year at schools, colleges and museums around the region. He said these “mini-events” help them share the history of their people through educational and cultural activities and the chance to share how the tribe is thriving, particularly in the past four years since receiving federal recognition as a nation.

The Nansemond nation also plans to continue attending other weekend powwows held by their sister tribes throughout the region. These weekend activities occur all the way up to Thanksgiving, he said.

Additionally, Anderson said they are planning to bring back the Firebird Festival next spring, which is geared to help educate school age children. This also was canceled the last couple of years because of the pandemic.

They also are taking part in the Great Dismal Swamp Initiative that is working to secure National Heritage Area designation. He said there are a lot of programs going on there that provide education not only on the Native American ties to the Dismal Swamp, but also of the African American and European people. To support this event, he noted they are pleased with the new heritage center the City of Chesapeake has built near the entrance to the swamp.

To make the event possible in Suffolk, Anderson said it took not only the support of other tribes, but also the excellent assistance they got from the City of Suffolk, area EMS, police and fire departments and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. He said the tribe would not have been able to hold the event without all of the volunteers and the in-kind support they received from the community.

The Nansemond Indian Nation continues to work on its programs as it is in its fourth year of sovereignty. “We’re still babies in the scheme of things,” Anderson said.

He explained it takes time to get the right people in the roles needed to manage the tribal affairs, noting it is a huge responsibility. They have to ensure they are meeting all of the requirements that come with federal recognition and also be accountable to those who grant them funding and to the people of their nation.

Anderson said it’s challenging but he believes it is going well. There is a big learning curve, particularly in Virginia, where Native American nations are relatively new. Educating themselves and others is a big part of what they are working to do.