Many people in our area learned what they know about America's indigenous people from their high school social studies classes, and when they think of them, may still have a mental image of plains or western tribes, such as the Cheyenne, Lakota, or Diné© (Navajo). However, there were many nations in the "dawn land" (east), too, whose names might not be quite as familiar: Abenaki, Nipmuc, Mi'Kmaq, Narragansett, Wampanoag and Maliseet, to name a few.
But, they have just as rich a history, and their cultures are alive and well in New England and eastern Canada.
Recently, the Agawam Group in Ipswich held their second annual powwow, where Quabbin Lake Singers sang in their own language. As powwows have become more inter-tribal, most drums (each group of singers is called a drum) sing songs in "vocables," which provide recognizable refrains that become familiar to all and are easier to learn. But, many Native nations that still have Native speakers, such as the Passamaquoddy and Abenaki, are working hard to preserve their languages, so it was especially refreshing to hear Larry Spotted Crow Mann, and his young sons, singing in their Nipmuc tongue.
In this part of the country, where European contact came earlier, and where being Indian often lead to aboriginal people suffering prejudice and discrimination, many people whose ancestry was Native, or Native and European, did not grow up in their respective cultures.
Sometimes, parents tried to shield youngsters from harm by asking that they claim only their French or other ethnic ancestry, essentially "passing" as white. For such people, the powwow is often their first opportunity to experience what, to many of them, seems a lost piece of their souls.
The recent Agawam Powwow was only the first in this summer's series of events that are an easy drive for local residents seeking to reconnect with those roots, or for non-Natives who simply want to know more about Native traditions.
July 3-5 is the Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow in Mashpee (483 Great Neck Road). But, on July 25, the New England Native American Cultural Council brings the Old Fashioned Sunday Powwow to the Bartlett Mall Pond in Newburyport. his year, the drum is Mi'Kmaq Thunder Singers from Canada.
In August, residents can experience Native culture without going over the bridge. Intertribal of Tolba Menahan Intertribal Seaside and Festival Powwow, featuring Walking Bear Singers, takes place August 28 & 29 at Stage Fort Park.
Sept. 11 and 12, MCNAA (Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness) holds its annual powwow at Plug Pond, in Haverhill. Sept. 18 and 19, GLICA (Great Lowell Indian Cultural Association) holds theirs on the grounds of the Bedford VA Hospital. A more complete listing of New England powwows can be found at http://www.powwowschedule.com/.
In Native culture, much respect is afforded to elders. If you know a tribally enrolled elder, or an elder who identifies as Native or Mé©tis, or of Native or Mé©tis descent, who you think may be in need of services to remain independent at home and within their community, local Aging Services Access Points can help. Both SeniorCare, Inc. and Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley (ESMV) have culturally aware staff, and are able to connect elders with services and with Native groups in the area.
SeniorCare serves Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham and can be reached at 978-281-1750. ESMV serves twenty three cities and towns in the Greater Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and Newburyport areas and can be reached at 1-800-892-0890.