- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

A group of children dressed from headdress to moccasins in traditional American Indian attire had no idea their stroll toward dance rehearsal yesterday was crossing paths with Brithtbay Osceola — an authentic link to history and their heritage.

“I am a direct descendent of Chief Osceola,” said Miss Osceola, describing herself as the great-great-great-granddaughter of the legendary 19th-century leader of Florida’s Seminole tribe during its war against the United States.

Miss Osceola was among the hundreds of people who converged at the MCI Center yesterday for the start of National Powwow, a three-day celebration of American Indian culture and history.

The event is sponsored by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and features traditional and contemporary styles of dance, so audiences can see the evolution of styles throughout the last century.

More than 800 participants from hundreds of tribal nations throughout the United States and Canada are scheduled to compete this weekend on the auditorium’s main floor. The events will include dance and drum competitions, with participants ranging from youngsters to seniors.

W. Richard West Jr., the museum’s founding director, said more than 20,000 people were on the Mall in 2002 for the inaugural National Powwow.

This weekend’s powwow is part of the celebration of the museum’s one-year anniversary.

“The National Powwow is an example of the museum’s commitment to presenting public programs that reflect the diversity and social traditions of contemporary native cultures,” said Mr. West, a Southern Cheyenne.

The powwow is also an opportunity for big-time competition: More than $100,000 in prize money will be awarded to winners in the adult categories of the dance competitions.

But most in attendance said they came to soak up the culture. Vendors sold everything from Navajo tacos to tribal jewelry to deer and elk hides.

“This is the National Powwow, and I’m indigenous,” Miss Osceola said. “That’s why I’m here.” She also planned to visit the museum, which she has yet to see.

A Cherokee from Philadelphia who said his full name was simply “El,” said he came to the powwow to “be with my family.”

El said he has instilled a sense of cultural awareness in his 6-year-old daughter since she was very young.

“It’s what I was taught, same as I teach my daughter,” said El, 30. “She says, ‘I’m Indian, daddy. Those are Europeans. This is my home.’”

Marge Moscatiello, 61, a retired social worker from Silver Spring, purchased a hand-crafted doll before heading into the MCI Center with her husband, Nick, to watch the competitions.

Such events, she said, are important because they give people a chance to buy products from American Indian vendors.

“I only buy Native American crafts from Native Americans,” Mrs. Moscatiello said. “I will not buy them from intermediary white entrepreneurs.”

She said she has studied the culture for some 20 years.

“I feel [American Indians] have been treated badly by the whites who came to America, and it’s not enough we can do to try and make up for that.”

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