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Many other dances follow the grand entry. For newcomers, information is available at the Assateague Peoples table, which also offers for sale “The Cookbook of the Assateague Peoples,” a medley of Indian and non-Indian Eastern Shore recipes.

Surrounding the arena, some 20 booths sell food and Indian arts and crafts and offer visitors other ways to experience Native American culture.

There are burgers made from that iconic Indian meat, the American bison. There are oyster fritters and clam strips made from the shellfish that formed a major part of the Assateague diet centuries ago.

Arts and crafts vendors come from all over, some from great distances. Jose Perujachi, a Quechua-speaking South American Indian, grew up in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. He now lives in New York, he says, but sets up his stand at New England powwows, offering South American Indian works and artifacts from other tribes. This is his first time on the Eastern Shore.

Anna Laws, a Shoshone from North Carolina, has a colorful booth displaying a variety of fabrics and leather goods she’s made, as well as objects carved by her husband, Daniel.

Mrs. Laws says she started out as a young woman doing only traditional Shoshone crafts, but felt restricted, so she branched out, making use of other Indians’ traditions, which made possible a wider variety of colors and designs. She and her husband each year set up shop at the Assateague Peoples powwow and other East Coast powwows.

Searching for identity

Medicine Cat recalls that when he was a boy growing up on the Eastern Shore his grandfather was one of the very few of his generation who was completely open about his Indian ancestors.

Others with Indian backgrounds remained silent, he remembers, either to avoid racist attacks or because they were ashamed of that past or indifferent to it, and didn’t want to talk about it.

Medicine Cat’s family held powwows when he was a boy.

“It was our family and a few other families getting together,” he says.

But those get-togethers came to an end; the last one was held about 1952 or 1954, he says.

That left him without an Indian connection, a lack he began to feel more sorely as he grew older. As a young man, he explains, “I was starved to death to learn the old traditions.”

A chance meeting with a Lakota elder from out west offered him a chance to reconnect with his past.

“He said to me that he’d seen me in a dream and that I should come to the Lakota reservation,” Medicine Cat remembers. He went west, “15 or so trips altogether,” to places like the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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