By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
A drumbeat will echo through the night air as campers gather by firelight to hear stories of old. There will be music, food and dancing. Shoes are not required.
All are invited to the 19th Annual Mother’s Day Native American Pow Wow May 7, 8 and 9 at Withlacoochee River Park in Dade City.
“The Pow Wow is a time for gathering and sharing,” said Mittie Wood, event organizer. “It’s a way of keeping Native American history and culture alive and vibrant today.”
This year’s event will feature nightly festivities, artisans, cultural displays, authentic teepees, Indian village tours and other special events.
Wood, 66, is a descendant of the Creek Indian tribe. Born and raised in Lacoochee, she grew up taking great pride in her culture. In 1991, she started the Dade City Pow Wow as an outreach to teach people what it truly means to be Native American.
“I made traditional Native American clothing for my grandchildren and they wanted to wear it to school,” Wood said. “When they did, the other children made fun of them and I realized there was a real need for education.”
Wood started by hosting classes in the park to teach children not to rely on stereotypes.
“I wanted to teach children that not all Native Americans live in teepees,” Wood said. “We are people just like they are. Pretty soon, all the kids wanted clothes like my grandchildren had.”
The classes were a hit, so Pasco County Parks and Recreation permitted a project to build a replica Creek Indian village on Withlacoochee grounds. Soon after, the idea for the Pow Wow emerged.
“My friend Dixie said we should have a Pow Wow,” Wood said. “Her heritage is Comanche which is Western Indian Culture, which is where Pow Wows originated. I said ‘We can try it,’ now we’re coming up on 19 years.”
The Dade City Pow Wow draws hundreds of people from across the country. Many Native American tribes are annually represented including Seminole, Aztec, Cree, Sioux, Winnebago and Cherokee.
Rick Bird and the Birdchoppers drum circle make the trip to Dade City from Cherokee, North Carolina. Bird travels to more than 40 Pow Wows a year. He loves to meet people and hear their stories.
“Pow Wows are an opportunity to express ourselves and better educate the public,” Bird said. “For so many years on television our people have been portrayed as savages and our people aren’t anything like that.”
Bird said a drum circle is about letting go of the bad and creating a new. The drummers sing songs to mimic the emotion of the dancers. There are songs to honor the creator, songs to be joyful and prayer songs.
“Any problems we have in life we bring them inside the circle,” Bird said. “It’s for healing.”
A local drum, Tommy Tointigh, will accompany the Birdchoppers in Dade City.
Representatives from a variety of tribes will dance to the beat, dressed in their finest regalia clothing. There will be a special song and dance at 1 p.m. on Mother’s Day. In addition, Thonotosassa pastor Doc Green and Troy Berton will perform flute music throughout the weekend.
During the day, visitors can enjoy art by Rex Begaye and Paul DeLuna, and shell carving by Craig Dziadus. Leather Betty will be back once again to showcase her custom made leather apparel. Anyone interested can learn how to do beadwork or watch a blowgun be made by hand.
“Way back people didn’t have Wal-Mart or anything like that,” Wood said. “People had to hunt. They used the blowgun to kill the smaller animals. We’ll have a demonstration on how it was made and a flint knapping demonstration.”
Flint knapping is a way of making stone tools by hand.
“I hear people say wouldn’t it be nice to have lived long ago and lived out in the woods,” Wood said. “Sure, it’d be nice in a way but imagine having no conveniences and having to work for even a little bit of food.”
Life at the Pow Wow won’t be quite so difficult. Sunrise to sunset, food vendors will cook up traditional snacks suitable for the wild outdoors.
Wood will have a hand in just about every activity, including putting on her best attire for at least one dance. She will also be the weekend’s storyteller.
The art form is how Native Americans pass wisdom on from generation to generation.
“All the stories tell lessons learned in life,” Wood said. “When I was a little girl we didn’t have television but we had stories. We’d gather around at night and listen to my momma talk.”
Wood worries that many people don’t know the truth about Native American culture.
“My mother was one year old before she was recognized as a United States citizen in 1924,” Wood said. “I feel like we’re losing our history. Even history books now don’t speak a lot about Native American culture.”
Bird has the same concern. He believes Pow Wows help keep the native spirit alive.
“We share songs, we share dances and we share our culture,” he said. “We come to celebrate who we are.”
Admission to the Pow Wow is a $2 donation to Withlacoochee River Park. There will be RV hook ups and tent camping available. For information, call (352) 567-0264. Visit www.mothersdaypowwow.embarqspace.com.
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