Lessons of the past abound at Powwow

By Blair Dedrick
Hopkinsville, Kentucky (AP) 9-07

Colors swirled as voices melded into the drum beat and dancers zigzagged around the circle.

Outside the circle, Lorinda Proctor of Clarksville, Tenn., a spectator instead of a competitor this year, watched at the Trail of Tears Intertribal Powwow.

“It’s so family-oriented and makes you feel like you’re so connected when you come,” Proctor said of the powwow.

Her father is an American Indian, and Proctor began going to powwows about 12 years ago as a way to become closer to her heritage. In past years, she has participated in the dancing competitions.

“Coming to these powwows kind of gives you back that heritage,” she said. “I don’t think there are enough events like this.”

Powwow Chairman Roger Richey said that connection is why the powwow and the Trail of Tears Park are so important.

“This is holy ground for them,” he said, referring to the two Cherokee chiefs who are buried at the park in Hopkinsville, as well as the thousands of other people who died on the forced march to Oklahoma beginning in 1838. “This is their celebration, and we’re happy we can give that back to the Cherokee Nation.”

Attendance was down this year compared with previous years, hitting between 4,000 and 5,000, Richey said. Attendance has dwindled since a 2003 crowd of about 15,000.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of dancers, didn’t have a whole lot of people, but we did have an outstanding powwow,” he said.

Next year, Richey hopes to fix that with a bigger powwow that should draw more people. He hopes to bring in some different events, including the Aztec fire dancers, an exhibition group that performed at past powwows.

Christopher Baker, 11, of Hopkinsville and his three cohorts, 10-year-olds Dexter Schuzer and Lance Baker and 8-year-old John Schuzer, seemed pretty excited, if slightly embarrassed, about joining the dance at the powwow, even if they were there because of school.

“We’re studying about Native Americans in social studies, and our teacher wanted us to come over the weekend and come back and tell him all about it,” Christopher said. “We’re learning about the same thing in arts and humanities.”

The boys are all in fifth grade at Belmont Elementary where teacher Chris Bentzel gave the extra credit assignment of going to the powwow.

“I like the powwow costumes,” John said.

Throughout the day, spectators like the boys were invited to join the dance in between competitions, and the blue-jean-clad of all ages danced right along with those in feathers and buckskin.

Danny Chappell of Oak Grove brought his daughter, 2-year-old Dayna, to introduce her to their Cherokee background.

“It’s always important to bring her out here and let her enjoy it,” he said. “To let her see what our relatives did in the past.”