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Powwow rekindles Indian memories

Published Oct. 6, 2005

My fondest memories from childhood are the nights when my sister and I curled up in front of the fireplace to listen to Mom tell us "When I was a Girl" stories.

Mom is of Cherokee Indian descent, born in 1915 in northeast Oklahoma. Her grandfather was full-blood Cherokee, and she is at least one-quarter _ and looks it. We always teased my Uncle Hank because he looked so much like the Indian on the buffalo nickel.

During her pre-teen years, Mom lived at the foot of Wooster Mound, a mountain named in honor of an English minister named Worcester, who accompanied her ancestors on the Trail of Tears from North Carolina. An Osage named Pierre St. John lived on the other side of the mountain. Like many Osages, he had oil money, and like most American Indians, he was generous with it. He frequently opened his sprawling house for powwows. Creeks and a small band of Potawatomis who had migrated from Michigan joined Osage and Cherokee for days of feasting and dancing and no little amount of drinking.

The Creeks came in buggies, the Potawatomis in wagon caravans, she said. Pierre St. John had a buffalo herd and would slaughter animals for the feast.

"All night long, you could hear the drums," Mom said. She and her brothers would sneak over to watch and listen.

Perhaps it is the remembrance of Mom's stories that made my heart jump with excitement when I heard that this year's Chasco Fiesta is going to include a true American Indian powwow Friday through March 6. For three days, the site of the future First Baptist Church on Trouble Creek Road will be filled with the singing, dancing and ceremonies of authentic and adopted Apache, Cherokee, Comanche, Creek, Choctaw, Ojibway and Aztec Indians coming from far and near for this celebration.

I've seen the photographs from a similar gathering in Plant City last year, and the Pasco powwow promises to be a visual treat, as well as an education about genuine Indian ways for people of all ages _ especially those reared on the egregiously erroneous Hollywood myth that "the only good injun is a dead injun."

(I've always known better; Mom told me up front that our forebears were the ones who revered the land and respected human rights, and that the palefaces were the nasty invaders who had mostly ruined everything.)

Seeing the regalia (never call the clothing "costumes") will be worth the visit. "Fancy dancers" will be there in all their feathered finery, as will the members of tribes in their celebratory outfits. There will be all kinds of dancing _ traditional "grass dancers" whirling and stomping to tamp down the grass for the other dancers, friendship dances the public can join, competition dancing, special children's dances with the wee ones in full regalia, and an Honor Dance for special American Indians expected to come. There will be storytelling, American Indian food, arts and crafts vendors and tepee competition.

As all of this takes place, people schooled in American Indian cultures will stand by to explain the meaning and purpose of what is happening.

The not-to-miss event is the grand entry parade that precedes the dances. Those are at 7 p.m. Friday; 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 5; and 1 p.m. March 6. That's the chance to take pictures of the breathtaking regalia worn by everyone from infants to great-great-grandfathers.

The Chasco Fiesta, with its parades, carnival rides, pageants and social events, has always been a lot of fun.

Now with three weekends of re-created historical events _ the Salt Spring Raid reenactment, the Mountain Man and Native American Rendezvous added last year and this year the arrival of a legitimate Native American Powwow _ the Chasco Fiesta also is becoming a cultural and educational experience.