NAIA powwow showcases the traditions of many tribes

By Albert Bender
Nashville, Tennessee (NFIC)

Amid the splendid verdant setting of the Long Hunter State Park, the Native American Indian Association (NAIA) has held its yearly powwow attended by tribal people from across the U.S. and Canada. Ojibwa, Navajo, Iroquois, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Micmac, Kickapoo, Ho-Chunk – members of these nations and more were all in attendance at the yearly gathering both as attendees as well as vendors and dancers. The powwow has continued to grow with each passing year.

“We feel this was one of the best powwows ever as we continue to grow more and more. With three days of beautiful weather we were flooded with students from schools in the surrounding counties and their teachers said the powwow was the best history lesson and cultural event they could get,” said Ray Emanuel, Lumbee, Executive Director of NAIA.

The latest gathering was the 26th Anniversary of this powwow that began as a small gathering in 1980, by a concerned group of Native Americans yearning for cultural renewal in a Nashville that at the time lacked the rich diversity of cultures flourishing in the city today.

Aside from the usual succulent American Indian cuisine provided by the food vendors and the magnificent array of dancers, there were the arts and crafts booths of the Native artisans. The booths provided a thrilling, mosaic-like spectacle that evoked the excitement of adults and children alike.

As always, thousands attended the three-day event – some even from faraway foreign countries such as Germany and England, scheduling their vacations just to attend the powwow. New friendships were made and old ones renewed as all had a rewarding experience.

“It’s been a great event, with big crowds all weekend and the food was great” said Jim Jacobs, Mohawk, from upstate New York, now living in nearby Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

The setting at Long Hunter State Park is historic in the sense that the park takes its name from the early white hunters, who left their homes in established Euro-American settlements east of the Appalachian mountains to hunt for months, or even years at a time, in peace and solitude, with their Native American counterparts, before the era of the late 18th century that ushered in decades of conflict between Indians and White.

Historically, the park is part of the larger Middle Tennessee area and although within the ancient domain of the Cherokee Nation, it was a shared hunting preserve, because of the richness of wildlife and the crystal clear rivers brimming with millions of fish. Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw hunting parties frequented the area, along with Indians from nations of the Midwest, North and Northeast to benefit from nature’s largeness. For powwow visitors it was quite easy to mind travel back to those serene and pristine times.

Adding to the placid ambience of this green sanctuary was the occasional sauntering in the nearby woods of deer and turkey grazing as if times had not changed in the past 300-odd years. Many of the more adventurous children, tired of sitting at their parents’ booths, occupied themselves in hunting for feathers or animal sightings.

Also, equally exciting for children and adults alike were the blowgun exhibitions given by demonstrators from the Choctaw community in West Tennessee. Spectators marveled at the skill and accuracy with which the blowgun darts were propelled to their targets by Choctaw craftsmen. Traditionally, blowguns were used by all the southern tribes – Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles – for the taking of birds and other small game. Nowadays, blowguns are used mostly for contest events.

Another crowd pleasing performance for young and old was the storytelling provided by powwow raconteurs. Stories were related on the origin of the Choctaw people, whom it was said came to the southeast from the far southwest thousands of years ago. The origin of the powwow Grand Entry was also recounted as it started with the Old Wild West shows that toured the U.S. and Europe in the late 19th Century, when Indian dancers would line up and enter the arena to perform before non-Indian audiences.

But of course, along with a history lesson was the performance provided by Indian musicians playing the traditional flute accompanied by piano, harmonica, bass and guitar. The audience listened with rapt attention.

Another indication of the growth of the NAIA powwow was the attendance by two tour bus loads of Native American elders from the Ojibwa Reservations in Northern Minnesota. They had traveled to Nashville to visit Opryland and decided to schedule their trip to coincide with the powwow.

Most crafts people who had attended the powwow decide to come back again and again. A good example was a vendor from the far North.

“I am an Iroquois of the Cayuga Nation, Wolf Clan, and I came back because it’s a nice atmosphere, friendly people, the weather was beautiful with a lot of interesting booths and a lot of great dancers and beautiful regalia,” said vendor Elaine Mount Pleasant from the Tuscarora Reservation at Niagara Falls, New York.

The NAIA expects that this year's pow wow will bring even more spectators, vendors and dancers.