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Powwow offers chance to learn of native culture

October 11, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The American Indian population increased by hundreds Friday as children from the area bought and proudly carried toy spears, animal pelts, feathers, jewelry, musical instruments and other items during the Wakichipi American Indian Powwow outside Martinsburg.

"It was great. It was fun," said Billy McVicar, a fourth-grader at Wright Denny Elementary School in Charles Town, W.Va. "The dancing Indians were cool. It was better than on TV."

Teachers from the region used the powwow as an educational opportunity, bringing their students to the annual celebration in buses and vans. The powwow continues today and Sunday at the Berkeley County Youth Fair grounds.

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Robin Kent, who teaches special education students at Orchard View Intermediate School outside Martinsburg, was one of the many teachers who brought students to the powwow. Kent said she wanted her students to be exposed to American Indian culture firsthand, rather than relying on history books.

While students were able to spend a day under the warm sun, it was not all free fun. Kent said she'll have her students write about what they liked at the celebration and explain why they liked it.

"You always tie experience back to the classroom," Kent said.

Arnold Richardson, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe in North Carolina, emceed the event. He said he hoped the children gained a better understanding of American Indians. Dispelling myths is something Richardson tried to do.

"Christopher Columbus didn't discover America. He didn't land here," Richardson said. "He discovered he was lost."

Richardson, whose tribal name is Tsa-neDos-e, also said Indians are not named such because Columbus first thought he'd stumbled upon India.

Upon seeing the native's spirituality, Columbus called them "indios," which Richardson said is Latin for "In God's Way." English-speakers then began pronouncing it "Indians," Richardson said.

Each of the more than 450 tribes still in existence in the United States speaks a different language.

"When people ask us if we speak Indian, we just laugh at them and say, 'How,'" Richardson said.

Even "how" is not really an Indian word, but something invented in Western movies, Richardson said.

Along with the dances, visitors also seemed impressed by a teepee on display and Tecumseh, a 3-year-old male bison. Signs placed around Tecumseh's pen warned that he is not domesticated and to not touch him.

Lee Anne McVicar, Billy's mother, chaperoned a group of students.

"The boys were very interested in the Indian jewelry and the other handmade things," McVicar said. Billy bought a rabbit pelt and a wooden gun that shoots a cork attached to a string.

She said she hoped her son and others realize the importance of the American Indian culture and keeping that history intact.

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