- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

RUTLAND, Mass. (AP) - Andre Gaines, also known as Sky Heart, had just been talking about the negativity in the world - the “coyotes” you have to watch out for - when he suddenly smiled, as he saw his son dance in a ceremonial circle, amid a dozen or so others, their tribal regalia bobbing and swaying to the drums.

Asked whether it has been hard to instill in his son a sense of appreciation for their Native American heritage, Mr. Gaines, a Worcester resident and Nipmuc, shook his head no. “It was already in him,” he said, like it had been with him.

At the 36th annual Worcester Inter-Tribal Indian Center Powwow on Sunday, other participants shared a similar feeling of pride and passion for their role in preserving their people’s ancient traditions, even if some also hinted at a sense of sadness that the things they consider to be sacred are not held in the same regard by many outside their communities.

Several attendees said the event, which was made free and open to the public both days this weekend at Treasure Valley Boy Scout Camp, at least provided an opportunity for the region’s various Native American tribes - the Worcester Inter-Tribal organization represents around a dozen in total - to showcase and share their culture with the hundreds of people who came out.

“Powwow - it means celebrate. And we come out here to celebrate,” said Franny Krevosky, an Oxford resident with Chippewa, Cree and Seneca ancestry who goes by Bear of Many Faces. “This is actually family.”

Mr. Krevosky added that joining that family doesn’t necessarily require ancestry. “We call it a tribal heart. Do you believe in what we do here?”

John “Gentle Hawk” Joubert of Worcester, chief of the Worcester Inter-Tribal Indian Center, said the powwow’s traditions, and the dance circle in particular, are not to be taken lightly, however. “It’s very sacred to us,” he said of the grounds. “When we bless the circle, that circle becomes our church for the weekend.”

The importance of land was a common thread in conversations with participants on Sunday afternoon, with several lamenting the degradation of nature by modern society.

“I don’t want Mother Earth, the rivers and lakes, to be contaminated,” said Chief Luis Offerrall, who made the trek to Sunday’s powwow all the way from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. “We need to keep it clean, for our generation, and the next generation.”

While environmentalists have censured President Donald Trump’s decision last week to remove the U.S. from the international Paris climate accord, Mr. Gaines said he doesn’t “have to watch the news to see what’s going on.” He said many people have lost their spiritual connection to the planet.

Mr. Joubert, meanwhile, alluded to a dramatic clash of those worldviews - the standoff at Standing Rock Reservation between Native American protesters and the government-backed pipeline project they say threatens their water - when commenting on the status of tribal interests in the U.S.

“I think people are more educated today about Native American culture” in general, he said. “But I still think we have a lot to accomplish. It’s like we take a step forward, then a step backward.”

There was still room for patriotism at Sunday’s powwow, as master of ceremonies Al Caron explained while introducing a ceremonial dance incorporating several flags. People often ask, he said, why Native Americans would salute the American flag, when the country’s government has mistreated them so often throughout history.

“The flag doesn’t represent the government,” he said. “The flag represents the people and the land. That’s what we honor - especially the land.”

The people, too, are important - especially the youth, according to several participants Sunday. Like Mr. Gaines, Mr. Joubert, for example, looked approvingly upon the children, many dressed in ceremonial outfits themselves, taking part in the day’s festivities.

“One of the best things for me is when I look in the circle and see young children, wearing the regalia of their ancestors,” he said. “That’s our future.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2rD1eEK

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Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), https://www.telegram.com


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