Nanticoke tribe to celebrate 42nd annual powwow Sept. 7-8

September 5, 2019

As the first state, Delaware has a rich history that stretches back hundreds of years. But the history goes back much further than the arrival of the first European settlers. Learn about the history, culture, and traditions of the Nanticoke tribe at the 42nd annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow in Millsboro, Sept. 7-8. 

The powwow offers the public a chance to observe and learn about Native American culture from more than 40 tribes from all over the country that attend every year according to Nanticoke Museum Coordinator Sterling Street.

“The public is able to come see a taste of our culture, our songs and our dancing,” he said. “It’s a chance for people who didn’t know that there are still Native Americans around to learn that we’re still here and that there are Native Americans across the United States that don’t live on reservations,” said Street.

A powwow is a coming together of tribes to exhibit culture, Street said. The Nanticoke Indian Powwow was founded in the 1920s and was originally held along the Indian River on Thanksgiving weekend. During the 1930s the Powwow came to a halt, but it was revived in 1977. 

Today 10,000 to 15,000 people attend the powwow to learn about Native American dancing, food, music, and culture. “We’ve gotten bigger every year. It really is a big event on the East Coast,” said Street.

Powwow dances will include social dances, such as the Shawl, Ribbon, Round dance and Veterans dance, as well as the Nanticoke Toe dance, some of which are performed  in a special style of dress. Ritual dances, Street said, are not for the public. 

“I think the dancing, drumming and singing is the most popular part of the powwow,” he said. “Our drummers and singers are the backbone of the powwow. They are the ones that enable the dancers to dance by carrying the beat.”

Dancers may wear traditional dress or fancy dancer dress, such as the jingle dress made of cloth or deer skin. “There could be about 100 dancers,” Street said. “The dancers all know what each is wearing and what they represent.” 

Dresses feature intricate designs that may have meaning to the dancers, who make their own regalia. Relatives also help or pass dresses down through the family.

Dancers at the powwow may also present other dancers with special beaded feathers or a feather fan from their own traditions.

Each year two or three drum groups are invited to perform. This year the drum groups are Red Blanket and Stoney Creek along with the Nanticoke tribe’s own drum group. 

The event will feature Native American foods like fried bread, Native American tacos, bison burgers and succotash at various food booths. Authentic Indian arts and crafts vendors will be present. The Nanticoke tribe will sell exclusive powwow merchandise such as T-shirts, hats and the 2019 powwow booklet. There will also be facepainting, storytelling and singing. 

On Saturday, the powwow will start at 10 a.m., with the Grand Entry at noon. Dancers will be introduced by dance category and their flags will be displayed. The circle in which the dancers dance is always blessed and each individual dancer is blessed before entry. The ceremonial act of smudging is performed, using herbs such as sage, cedar, tobacco and sweet grass, presented in all four directions, to bless the circle.

On Sunday, the powwow will open at 9:30 a.m. with Grand Entry at 1 p.m.

Not only is the powwow a good time for everyone involved; it is also a time of honoring ancestors.

“Our powwow is a time when we reunite and exhibit our culture, but it’s also a time that we honor our ancestors. And it’s because of them that we’re still here.” said Street. 

The entrance fee is $5 per person and free for children aged 12 and under. Free parking will be offered at 26800 John J. Williams Highway in Millsboro. People with disabilities may be dropped off on Mount Joy Road. Transportation to the powwow grounds will be provided. 

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