Powwow up close and personal

October 01, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY


Shelby McDonald is convinced she could happily live alone in a tepee.

"There wouldn't be as much yelling," said Shelby, 12, referring to constant fights between herself and her brother and sister.

A student at Spring Mills (W.Va.) Middle School, McDonald was one of hundreds of students from the area who attended the Wakichipi Powwow and Show at the Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds outside of Martinsburg.

The event continues today and Sunday.

What would happen should Shelby have to live in the tepee with her siblings?

"It would probably be knocked down," she said.

The tepee seemed to be popular with the students, who described it as "cool" and "awesome." A boy said it smelled good inside; a girl encouraged her friends to come inside to hang out.


Joe Whatmough, an Echota Cherokee, spent a winter in upstate New York living in the tepee.

A small fire inside kept him warm and reduced moisture, Whatmough said.

"The real detriment is no indoor plumbing," he said.

Although a traditional house offers more "creature comforts," Whatmough, 57, said living in a tepee offers its own advantages.

"This is closer to the earth, I guess," he said. "When you're lying on the earth, it's like laying against your mom."

Whatmough offered tidbits of interesting information about tepees, which were owned by women in matriarchal American Indian societies. A woman could divorce her husband by placing his belongings outside of the tepee, Whatmough said.

A liner kept a tepee's occupants dry and also offered privacy. Otherwise, the fire inside would cause the tepee to light up like a Japanese lantern, he said.

"You know who came up with the idea of a tepee? Children," Whatmough said.

Indian children used large leaves to form conical-shaped shelters for their toys, inspiring adults to create a tepee, which typically would be made from around 10 buffalo hides, with furs on the floor. American Indians living on plains and prairies used them to follow buffalo herds, Whatmough said.

Constantly talking about the tepee to adults and children, Whatmough said during a quieter moment that he hopes some false perceptions about American Indian cultures are changed.

"I'm hoping I educate a little bit because the historical perception of the Indian is that they're 'savages,' they don't have any culture, they just live in the woods. Not so," Whatmough said. "Before the colonials came, there were great civilizations here. The civilizations that people had here before the colonials are completely disregarded, I think, in the schools and the learning of people."

Other events at the powwow include dancing, craft demonstrations and sales, and storytelling. Food also is available, including buffalo burgers, fried bread, Indian corn soup and buffalo stew.

A parade of nations is scheduled for noon today.

Shelby, who had her face painted and feathers in her hair, said the event overall was fun.

"You get to see all the people that have been around for generations and generations," she said.

If you go

What: Wakichipi Powwow and Show

When: Today and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds, Golf Course Road, Martinsburg, W.Va.

Admission: $8 for adults; $5 for children

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