Drumbeats echoed through the Verizon Center in Northwest over the weekend, as the National Powwow honored warriors past and present, including some who have fought in Iraq.
About 45,000 people from across the country and Canada attended the powwow, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, which organized the three-day event.
“Powwows are a spiritual thing,” said Johnny Rorca, a Tuscarora dressed yesterday in a beaded leather suit, his gray-black hair hanging in a ponytail down his back.
Other Indians in tribal regalia nodded in agreement.
“You might call it a religion,” said Mr. Rorca, 65. “We call it ‘the way.’ ”
The powwow began about six years ago, about the time ground was broken on the Mall for the museum.
However, the now-completed, five-story museum does not meet the needs for a powwow.
“It’s cooler in [the Verizon Center] — air conditioned,” said Fred Nordham, 53, a former Army sergeant from Middlebury, Vt. “And there’s not enough room at the museum.”
Mr. Nordham helped make a drum to honor Indian men and women who served in Iraq. The instrument came from Germany, he said, but the drumhead and bindings were designed and made by Indians.
It was presented to the museum Friday as the celebration began.
The masters of ceremonies this year were Dennis Bowen Sr. and Vince Beyl.
Mr. Beyl is a member of the Chippewa tribe of Minnesota and a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marine Corps from 1970 to 1972. He is now the director of Indian education in the Bemidji Public Schools in northern Minnesota.
Mr. Bowen is from the Seneca Allegany Territory in western New York. He is now a wellness-program coordinator at the Tuba City Unified School District in Arizona.
The powwow included intertribal dances, drum contests, teen competitions and children’s exhibitions.
Mr. Rorca yesterday retold the story about how American Indians got their name: Christopher Columbus, upon landing on the shore of the New World and finding its inhabitants, thought he had reached India.
“That’s what he thought,” Mr. Rorca said. “We like to tell people we are N-D-Ns. Pronounce that. What does that sound like?”
Mr. Rorca, who farms in Lovettsville, Va., is the father of a grown daughter and son. He is proud of his heritage and future, though many American Indians live in poverty on reservations.
“My grandfather taught me the way of the people,” said Mr. Rorca, who thinks such wisdom led him to a better way of life.
“We will do fine as long as we can keep the pride that we are a special people,” he said.