Nansemond Indian Powwow marks 35th “celebration of life”

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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The Nansemond Indian Powwow returns for another year of celebrating American Indian culture this weekend on Saturday, Aug. 19 and Sunday, Aug. 20 at the Powwow Grounds located at 1001 Pembroke Ln. Following the first powwow on ancestral land in 1988, the cultural celebration will mark its 35th year of honoring Native American heritage and bringing people together.

Nansemond Indian Nation Tribal Chief Keith F. Anderson, Nansemond Indian Tribal President Christina Dodd and Tribal Administrator Tim Emery each took the time to talk about the upcoming event. Anderson, who marks his second year as Chief, discussed how the venue is one of Suffolk’s biggest festivals and one of the biggest indigenous offerings in the commonwealth.

“Attendees can expect a dynamic experience of American Indian culture through dance, foods, arts and crafts, and educational displays. Our festival attracts thousands from across the country and globally,” said Anderson. “The festival is also very family-friendly and inclusive, featuring social dances throughout the day and honorings for our military service persons which take place during opening ceremonies.”

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Dodd, who serves her first year as Nansemond Indian Tribal President, talked in detail about what attendees can expect from the celebration’s structure and activities.

“The powwow each day begins with the grand entry which starts with flags traditionally carried by veterans, then tribal leaders, followed by male dancers and female dancers (both led by a head dancer for each group). After this entry, there will be dancing with music provided by the Stoney Creek Drum Circle and singing by the WarPaint singers,” Dodd said. “Both of these groups have musicians who are dedicated to learning native musical traditions and language.”

She also detailed the elegant outfits that many women adorn during the celebration.

“One of my favorite things about the powwow is seeing all the beautiful and interesting regalia,” Dodd said. “Many of the women have beautiful jingle dresses which have cone-shaped metal ornamentation and intricate bead work.”

Emery, who is serving in his “inaugural experience” as tribal administrator, expressed the importance of the powwow, noting that it holds a paramount place in the tribe’s hearts.

“It serves as a joyous occasion for Native Americans to unite, celebrating the essence of our tribal community and kinship with fellow tribes,” Emery expressed. “It stands as a testament to our resilience in the face of centuries of challenges and oppression, echoing our deep-rooted cultural heritage and our principles of safeguarding Mother Earth, while upholding personal and communal integrity.”

Emery also described the Powwow as an “open invitation” for a warm welcome to non-Natives to respectfully partake in their festivities. 

“It represents an opportunity to delve beyond the often skewed narratives surrounding Native culture and history, fostering understanding and appreciation for our rich traditions,” he said.

Finally, each spoke on what they hope attendees will take away from the event this Saturday and Sunday. Dodd expressed how she wants people to feel they’ve been in a warm and welcoming place while also gaining a greater appreciation and a desire to learn about Native American culture.

“We Nansemond are your friends and neighbors, who are trying to honor the legacy passed down to us through community and service,” she expressed. “The history of being Native in America is an extraordinarily difficult one, but we focus on the future and hope to be a continuous blessing to Suffolk and beyond. We want people to want to come alongside us and share in our environmental and cultural efforts.”

For Emery, along with hopes of attendees leaving with “an uplifted spirit, enriched knowledge, and an inspired determination” to coexist with each other, he hopes those experiencing the event for the first time to anticipate a sense of homecoming with poignant dances depicting their heritage. 

“The event will showcase the talents of authentic Native artisans and their exquisite creations, immersing attendees in a world of indigenous artistry,” he said. “Interactive social dances will beckon participation, inviting everyone to engage and, in the process, become allies in amplifying our story. This collaborative effort paves the way for a more harmonious coexistence with the natural world and fellow humankind.”

Lastly for Anderson, he expressed how the powwow is a celebration of life for all people and culture.

“For American Indian tribes and nations, the venue is a time for reflection, gratitude, cultural preservation, renewing relationships and building new ones, and honoring our ancestors — those who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that our people would always have a lasting place on the lands we call home,” Anderson said. “We hope that all who attend embrace a commonality of inclusiveness and kinship; dismiss any conceived notions of negativity or prejudice; and become more conscious of the dynamic of American Indian culture and history in Virginia and throughout the United States.”

For more information on the Nansemond Indian Powwow or the Nansemond Indian Tribe, go to