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Nanticoke Indian Powwow celebrates 40 years

August 16, 2017

This month's armchair tour of Sussex County gives some background on the upcoming 40th Annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow set for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9 and 10, in Millsboro.

Powwow is defined by the Nanticoke as a cultural event that features Native American music with group singing and dancing to ensure cultural traditions are passed from generation to generation. "Powwows help our people come together and remember that it is our job to keep our heritage alive," said Shianna Colon, age 9, a member of the Nanticoke tribe. The event also features Nanticoke Indian Museum tours, Native American foods including fry bread and Indian tacos, and the works of more than 40 skilled Native American artisans. These craftspeople travel across the country attending various powwows to display and sell their handmade goods, to visit with friends and relatives, and to trade or sell native arts and crafts including jewelry, pottery, moccasins, ribbon shirts, shawls, dream catchers, and paintings.

The name Nanticoke is translated as "tidewater people" or "people of the tidewaters." The Nanticoke people originally lived by farming, fishing and hunting between what is now Seaford and Vienna, Md. For more information about the history and culture of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe along with descriptions of and information about the dances to be seen at the powwow, go to

The first recorded contact with the Nanticoke Indians was made by Captain John Smith in 1608 when he and his crew were exploring the Chesapeake Bay and sailed up the Kuskarawaok River, now known as the Nanticoke River, which flows through western Sussex County. In fact, there is a monument to Smith commemorating this exploration into Delaware located at Phillip's Landing Recreation Area in Laurel. This is a lovely area right along the river for a picnic. There are picnic tables, but visitors should note that the area is carry in-carry out with no trash receptacles.

At first wary of each other, Smith, his crew and the Nanticoke exchanged food, water and furs for gifts the English had brought. Several Nanticoke agreed to serve as guides for Smith to continue his exploration of the river. At the time, Smith recorded nearly 200 families living along the Nanticoke River.

By 1881, the Nanticoke Tribe was recognized by the State of Delaware as a legal entity. In 1921, the Nanticoke formed the Nanticoke Indian Association. The association opened the Nanticoke Indian Museum in 1984 to collect and display items from their Native American heritage. Today there are approximately 500 Nanticoke living in Sussex County and many tribal members living in other states.

The Nanticoke Indian Museum is the only Native American museum in the State of Delaware. It was formerly a two-room schoolhouse for Nanticoke children in first through eighth grades, and the museum displays include thousands of arrowheads, pottery, axe hammers and other objects, all of which are homemade. Visitors are introduced to the work that goes into creating native arts and leave with a new understanding of Nanticoke Indian culture. The first room displays the tools as well as a depiction of a village to show how the Nanticoke elders lived in the old days. It also features lots of artwork from tribal members and others. The second room has artifacts that date back to 8000 B.C., as well as a stage that displays traditional clothing and animals from which the clothes were made. The exhibit also features a wooden canoe that the men and boys of the tribe travelled in to collect fish, crabs and other animals.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, and 12 to 4 p.m., Sunday from April to December; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday to Saturday, and 12 to 4 p.m., Sunday from January to March.

Parking for the Nanticoke Indian Powwow is at 26800 John J. Williams Highway (Route 24), Millsboro, slightly west of the intersection of Route 24 and Mount Joy Road. Parking and entry for visitors 12 and under are free. Entrance fees for those older than 12 are $5 per person. For more, information call 302-945-7022.

We hope you'll attend next month's Nanticoke Indian Powwow in person - it's definitely a wonderful, do-not-miss experience. Just remember to bring your lawn chair.

As always safe travels and please watch your speed as you travel through our small towns. Speed limits are enforced. To do more armchair exploring of Southern Delaware, go to, then go take a ride.

Hildegard Reiger is owner of Relaxing Tours.

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