Annual Powwow this weeekend in Whitehall

Native American dancers robed in the vibrant hues of ceremonial dress will move in perfect harmony to the rhythmic beating of drums as the First Nations Intertribal Powwow marches into Whitehall this weekend.    

The eighth annual event will be held on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 3 and 4, at the Skenesborough Canal Side Park, adjacent the Canal Corp. Visitors Center on Skenesborough Drive.

Sponsored by the Arts and Recreation Commission of Whitehall, the powwow is a traditional Native American celebration that highlights the different aspects of Native American culture.

“It’s a celebration of Native American culture,” said Beth Hayes, who is of Native American descent and has attended the event every year since its inception. “The festival demonstrates to the public the many facets of Native American culture.”

Throughout the weekend guests will be able to hear the steady pulse of drums and the chanting of Native American singing. They can watch as men, women and children dance in perfect unison.

“People see the word powwow and they don’t understand what it is. The singing, the drums, the dancing, the storytelling; it helps keep our culture alive,” Hayes said. “The big thing is education. We’re trying to educate people about Native American culture.”

To that end, different vendors will demonstrate their craft, be that leather making or weaving, and guests are encouraged to ask questions of the various presenters and performers.

A number of indigenous cultures are represented during the weekend, including many Northeastern woodland groups, such as the Abenaki.

Although Hayes said the event remains largely unchanged from year’s past, this year’s powwow will include a Native American encampment that will portray life during the French and Indian War.

Reenactors will dress in period appropriate clothing, erect tents similar to those used during the era, and use some of the same tools.

“Their appearance and everything they use will resemble things from that time period,” Hayes said.

One of the most popular elements of the event, however, is dancing.

Hayes said a number of different dance groups will perform throughout the weekend.

“There are several different styles that are represented,” Hayes said

Each dance is dependent on different chants, drum beats, and specific foot movements.

The Abenaki Circle of Courage Youth Group of Swanton, Vt., will demonstrate a number of dance styles and will drum and sing as well.

Although the powwow begins at 10 a.m., the grand entrance, led by this year’s host drums, will be held at noon on both Saturday and Sunday.

The Walking Bear Singers will represent the southern host drum while the Black Hawk Singers will represent the northern host.

Some of the dances will be open to the public to try.

Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, professional storytellers who have visited Whitehall on several occasions in the past, will relay stories from their Abenaki heritage, and Bob Marcotte, who plays the guitar, banjo and flute will perform.

Gary Hayes will serve as the master of ceremonies and there will be raffles, including a Johnny Thorpe chainsaw carving, and food.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free.

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