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Pow Wow attendees celebrate, shore up traditions

Chris Curtis Recorder     
Drummers keep the beat for dancers Sunday during the final evening of the Labor Day Pow Wow at the Indian Plaza in Charlemont.

Chris Curtis Recorder Drummers keep the beat for dancers Sunday during the final evening of the Labor Day Pow Wow at the Indian Plaza in Charlemont.

CHARLEMONT — While the unofficial end of summer saw an unofficial end of summer cookouts around the county, visitors to the Indian Plaza in Charlemont observed another tradition, also with a cookout.

Saturday’s pig roast came in just under the wire for the evening’s thunderstorm, and occasional showers weren’t enough to keep dancers out of the roped-off circle at the center of the pow wow.

The circle is symbolic of a circle of life, said Peter “Searching Owl” Giove, of Washington, N.H.

Giove is circle-keeper and head elder of the gathering, and said the sacred circle is a concept found in all Native American religions.

The Indian Plaza Pow Wow is not specific to any particular tribe, but Giove said elements of the tradition are universal and the religion has respect at its core.

“How many ways can you interpret respect?” he asked.

Giove, like others at the gathering, described the Indian Plaza pow wows as a means to preserve and pass on traditions.

“We live in a system that wishes we weren’t here in the first place and here on the East Coast we’ve been hit with assimilation so much we need to teach our (younger generation),” Giove said. “We have to keep our culture alive.”

Giove said he was raised Roman Catholic and came across his Mohawk ancestry in his early 30s. Giove said he was in a Veteran’s Administration hospital after the Vietnam War when his doctors decided it might do him good to see his mother’s grave, and in the process of looking for it discovered she wasn’t dead, as he believed.

“The first thing, the very first words out of her mouth were, ‘You have to remember that you were born of the people,’” Giove said. “And I had no idea what she was talking about.”

Wanting to keep his son from a similar disconnect with his past, Giove said he decided to check out Native American traditions. “And I’ve been checking it out ever since,” he said.

Not all are late-comers to the tradition.

Lorene “Crescent Moon” Pierce of Greenfield said she has been coming to the plaza on Route 2, the Mohawk Trail, since her father brought her as an infant in 1952.

“These are my home pow wow grounds,” Pierce said. “We come to dance our prayers in the circle.”

Pierce said she has seen attendance decline over the years since the 1950s and ’60s, when she remembers police would be on hand to direct traffic into the plaza, but points to children spinning in the circle as a positive sign.

“You see all these children here? They’re learning tradition,” she said.

Harold Roberts owns the property, where he said his parents used to run a store and a renowned Navajo silversmith camped in the summers.

Roberts said he has held pow wows on the property for 35 years at least, after his father invited members of the Narragansett tribe to move their pow wow from the local fairgrounds.

Roberts said he now hosts at least seven pow wows a year, but they have shrunk in recent years as people can’t afford to travel or spend money at the vendor tents.

Items for sale ranged from dream catchers to record-vinyl cactus bowls to tattoos, but the drum pavilion and the circle were the busiest areas Sunday afternoon.

Giove considers the 2011 flooding of the Deerfield River during Tropical Storm Irene, which left four-foot high-water marks on the buildings and inches of silt, as a tabula rasa for the grounds.

“We are succeeding. We had a full cleansing of the place by the creator when a wall of water came through here and washed this all out,” he said.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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